When it comes to dining outside of the Boston city limits, you often hear of such cities and towns as Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Waltham, and Quincy, since each of these communities has so many good restaurants, but one that tends to come up less often that should be on the list as well is Woburn. This northern suburb of Boston used to be known mainly for its roast beef joints and pizza places, but over the past several years it has really developed into a dining destination, with such spots as Sichuan Garden II, WuBurger, Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe, and The Restaurant impressing critics and diners alike. And Woburn also does has a number of real hidden gems, including an Indian restaurant called Zaika that, while not well-known outside of the city, is worth the drive from nearly anywhere in the region for its outstanding food.
Zaika Indian Bistro is one of many small, independent businesses lining the stretch of Main Street that meanders through Woburn Center, and it is easy to miss because there are simply so many storefronts in the downtown area (including a good number of restaurants). The interior of the eatery is narrow and is a bit on the dark side--except for the seats near the front windows during the day--and it generally has a serene and peaceful feel to it, with Indian music playing softly in the background and the kitchen being far enough away so that very little noise can be heard from it. Several booths are lined up along the right wall, with smaller tables set up along the left wall, and the front area includes a counter/host station where takeout orders are picked up.
While some Indian restaurants focus solely on one section of the country, Zaika offers food items from various parts of India. Northern Indian dishes such as shahi paneer, seekh kebab, and aloo ghobi share the menu with Southern Indian options such as dosas, lamb biryani, and coconut soup, and while most Indian restaurants offer fresh-tasting dishes, the ones at this dining spot just seem a bit fresher, with vibrant, warming tastes and smells coming from the food. Starters at Zaika include fried lentil balls with a creamy yogurt sauce (these are complimentary, by the way); a marvelous dal soup with lentils, spices, and a bit of heat; a salad with vegetables grilled in the restaurant's tandoor; and chicken pakoras, which have a chickpea batter and are deep-fried. The restaurant has a number of bread offerings as well, including fresh versions of naan (unleavened white bread cooked in their tandoori oven) paratha (griddled whole wheat bread), poori (deep-fried puffed bread), and roti (a delicious whole wheat bread cooked in the tandoor). Main dishes at Zaika include several curries, including a wonderful chicken korma with a mild cream sauce mixed with nuts and raisins. A seafood vindaloo is available, and as is the case in general with vindaloos, make sure you can truly handle the heat before ordering it "hot." The aforementioned dosas at Zaika are tremendous, and the pick of the lot might be the lamb masala dosa, which includes tender and rich meat with very little fat or gristle stuffed into the long crepe. A classic tandoori chicken is offered as are salmon kebabs that are cooked in the tandoori oven. Vegetarians have a lot to choose from here, including bhindi masala (fresh okra in a rich curry) and shahi paneer (a firm house-made cheese that is sauteed in a tomato-based cream curry). Beer is available at Zaika (both domestic and the barley-rich Indian options), along with the ever-popular mango lassi yogurt shake and darjeeling tea mixed with milk and spices.
Woburn has a lot of good restaurants that fly under the radar, and Zaika Indian Bistro is certainly one that would indeed be considered a hidden gem. It can be difficult to choose from the many terrific dining spots found in the center of this city, but if you are a big fan of Indian cuisine, it is tough to do any better than this friendly little place.
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