The Main Line has no shortage of dining options. Residents and visitors alike find a wealth of cuisines, from classic American pub food to Japanese fare to plentiful Italian. But when it comes to Indian cuisine, the Main Line and its surrounds are often found wanting.
That was how Rahul Bhatia felt. Having grown up in India, Bhatia and his wife saw a huge gap in the market, which desperately needed to be filled. They couldn’t find the savory and spice-infused dishes they loved, so they decided to create it themselves.
In 2009, they opened their first elegant, but family-friendly establishment, Saffron Indian Kitchen in Bala Cynwyd. It was an immediate hit among Indian cuisine lovers and was soon converting those who hadn’t yet tried it.
The popularity soon demanded a second location, this time in Ambler. While the two restaurants gained a loyal following in their respective neighborhoods, Bhatia waited for a perfect location to open in the heart of the Main Line: Wayne. “There was no decent Indian restaurant around it in Wayne, King of Prussia or Bryn Mawr,” says Bhatia. “There were a lot of new restaurants coming there, people have a lot of choices but, Indian, something ethnic, was missing, so we thought it would be a good fit.”
Last summer, Saffron debuted its third location, this time on Lancaster Avenue. Unsurprisingly, it became as popular as its sister locations. With its colorful dishes and tablecloth service, it’s no wonder why. The restaurants have a light, airy quality, the environment welcoming, but sophisticated, making it equally suitable for date night and family dinners.
Inside any of the Saffron locations, diners find a host of flavors on their plates, all made with authentic Indian spices, but not too much. “We have a lot of flavor in it, but we don’t make it very heavy,” explains Bhatia. Those flavors have customers coming back multiple nights a week, he says.
For those who aren’t well versed in the savory cuisine, servers offer tableside guidance, asking questions about what an individual prefers, how spicy he or she likes the food, and so forth. Once they have a good idea about preferences, servers then make recommendations so that the dining experience is thoroughly enjoyable.
“The servers are very knowledgeable and will guide you into something if it’s your first time, whether it’s the most popular items that people try the first time or if you’re looking for something new to try,” explains Bhatia. Servers will even recommend dishes for the table, family-style, if there’s a group interested in sharing and trying different things.
To further make the dining experience inclusive, Saffron Indian Kitchen offers a host of allergy-sensitive dining options. Those who are vegetarian and vegan, or even those with gluten-free diets, can find options on the menu. Vegetarian specialties include daal-e-bahar, consisting of lentils slow cooked in herbs and spices, bhindi do piaza, which is fresh spiced okra cooked with diced onions and tomatoes, and baigan bharta, or smoked eggplant with tomatoes, onions, ginger and garlic, among many others.
Traditional menu specialties rove the vast South Asian country, from popular North India dishes to South India dishes. The savory flavors of curry and kabobs are plentiful, as are samosas, naan and lamb dishes, meaning there’s something for every palette. Some of Bhatia’s personal favorites are the chicken tikka masala and the chicken tandoori.
The menu—and many of the recipes—were created by Bhatia and his wife, who is a trained chef. “We’re always trying different recipes, we have a new special every month and regional cuisines—a cuisine from a different part of India—so people can come and try it,” explains Bhatia, who has a background in restaurant administration, meaning he’s no stranger in the kitchen, either.
All of the work Bhatia has put into Saffron Indian Kitchen hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not only is it a popular spot for Main Liners to get an authentic taste of Indian cuisine, but it’s been widely recognized by area publications, winning Best of Philly and Best of the Main Line and Western Suburbs awards.
For those looking for a taste of India—whether already fans of the heady flavors or wanting to try it for the first time—there’s no better place on or around the Main Line than any of Saffron Indian Kitchen’s three locations.
Saffron Indian Kitchen
60 E. Butler Ave.
Ambler, PA 19002
145 Montgomery Ave.
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
522 W. Lancaster Ave.
Wayne, PA 19087