Kam Singh, son of Star of India’s founder Jagjit Singh, manages Kohinoor but can frequently be found cooking at both

 

In the eight years since Jagjit Singh opened the doors of Star of India, St. Cloudians and regional visitors alike have flocked to get a taste of authentic, made-from-scratch Indian cuisine inside the restaurant’s central but rather inconspicuous location, tucked between H&R Block and GNC, in the Division Place Shopping Center.

Heavily influenced by the Northern Punjab region of India, The Star’s menu is a drastic but delicious flavor departure from standard Central Minnesota fare, but arguably just as comforting as the burger and fries it regularly competes with. Its 4.7-star rating on Google, averaged from nearly 200 reviews, vouches for its ever-increasing popularity amongst St. Cloud foodies—especially for the daily, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet.

For about $13 per person ($11.95 + tax), buffet diners can push their plate capacity limits in-house with a dizzying array of options including traditional beef curry, curry pakora, a combo of fried vegetable fritters in a thick gravy and the Star’s infamous chicken tikka masala, or fill a to-go box to the brim to enjoy elsewhere, perhaps in the comfort in sweatpants.

Beyond the buffet line, Star of India’s impressive offering of nearly 100 lunch or dinner starters and entrée options, suitable for carnivores, seafood lovers, vegans and vegetarians, will make deciding what to order the hardest part of the dining experience.

Two miles and too many stoplights east down Division Street lies The Star’s sister restaurant, Kohinoor Bar & Grill. Opened in late 2015, in a well-appointed space, across the road from downtown business landmark Capital One, Kohinoor was designed to offer similar high quality Indian food in a fine dining setting.

Kohinoor’s menu differentiates from The Star by serving more grilled items from a traditional clay tandoori oven as well as items the Singh family calls “fusion” food, referring to their chicken curry naan taco and tuna kabobs that provide newbies a familiar gateway to Indian food before heading into more adventurous territory.

Chicken Josh, boneless chicken pieces cooked in a yogurt base curry, blended with Indian spices

Experienced Indian food lovers typically opt for Kohinoor’s signature dishes like balti chicken, curried cubes of chicken with onions, ginger, tomatoes and garlic served with a touch of cream and basmati rice, tandoori grilled lamb chops and chicken masala, a fan favorite at both Singh family establishments.

While heading downtown means Kohinoor diners are less likely to snag a parking spot mere steps from the restaurant’s door, its hearty weekday lunch specials, full bar serving daily happy hour deals (4-6 pm) and outdoor patio seating in the warmer months make it worthwhile to walk an extra block or two.

Furthermore, the ability to make advanced reservations at Kohinoor makes it a great spot for date nights, family dinners or larger parties of 8-20 people looking for guaranteed seating in a downtown St. Cloud restaurant. While both The Star and Kohinoor welcome and accommodate children, the adjacent parking lot and larger, spacious interior of The Star gives it a leg up in the family-friendliness department.

Chicken Tikka Masala, boneless chicken pieces cooked in house special masala with sliced onions, tomatoes, ginger and bell pepper

Staff at both The Star and Kohinoor often hear newcomers express concern for the cuisine being too spicy. While nearly all Indian dishes have no shortage of distinct flavors such as cumin, ginger, cardamom, coriander and even cinnamon, guests are reassured its nothing to fear.

Most of the time, the food is as spicy as you want it to be, and here’s why: When placing your order, servers are trained to ask patrons to choose a number on the restaurant’s heat scale, ranging from 1-5, with 1 being little to no spice and 5 potentially making you sweat a bit. In other words, you only have yourself to blame if things go south later.

Pro tip: If you underestimate your ability to handle heat, which can happen to even the strongest of stomachs, don’t hesitate asking your server for cream or coconut milk to mix into your dish to help dilute the spiciness without ruining the flavor.

Whether you choose to dine in, take-out or get it delivered (both are on Food Dudes!), the Star of India’s and Kohinoor’s expansive menus, filled with easy to understand item descriptions and reasonable price points, provide Central Minnesotans with a necessary breadth of culinary diversity. Speaking of, don’t be shy about popping a breath mint afterward.

Photos by Savannah Pierson

With contributions from Vatsalaa Jha