Curry Trifecta

Curry Mantra continues the winning streak.

Curry Mantra continues the winning streak.

Words by Stefanie Gans    Photos by Erick Gibson

Fruits and vegetables combine for a bright mango and cabbage salad. Photo by Erick Gibson.

There is a mini chain brewing in Northern Virginia. Curry Mantra 3 opened in Vienna in September, Curry Mantra 2 opened in February of last year in Falls Church and the original opened in Fairfax in January 2011. And the Curry Mantra truck roaming around Lee Highway already signals: “Curry Mantra 4 Coming Soon.”

Crunchy fried vermicelli tops a shrimp appetizer. Photo by Erick Gibson.

The restaurants have a similar vibe, which feels on the low end of high-end. The prices reflect the latter, as does the attentive service. The interiors play homage to the culture of India, noting the importance of Indians’ contribution to the tech industry or with images of Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

The third installment is an addition to the family, not a copy, with this location-specific dishes clearly labeled on the menu. I stayed there, as well as following the menu’s instructions: Dishes throughout are labeled with “(Must Try).”

Four shrimp enjoy a double crunch, first with a chickpea flour and breadcrumb batter and then topped with fried vermicelli, cut down to the length of a grain of rice. The texture is as meaty as chicken—which is substantial for a shellfish—and carries enough flavor that a dip in the bright tomato chutney doesn’t feel obligatory.

Mangoes pop in two wonderful dishes. One is a fresh salad, with super ripe chunks of mango on a tangle of crisp cabbage, fried onions and crushed peanuts with a dressing slightly creamy, offering a soft heat. Lamb chunks sink in a thick tomato and onion gravy with mango bits bursting through, utterly transforming each bite it stars in.

Saffron can’t save a dry, tough and chewy dumpling in the malai kofta and out of the four kebobs offered in the combo platter, the only standout was the workhorse Indian dish of chicken tikka, bright red and as moist as chicken gets.

An ingratiating move at the end of the meal cheapens the experience: With the bill, the server shoves a tablet onto the table, telling guests to rate dinner.

I like the beginning better, with a gratis plate of housemade buttery fried papdi and two chutneys—and the joy of deciding what dishes must be tried tonight.

Curry Mantra 3

Bread is a must at Indian restaurants and the buttery layered paratha doesn’t even a need a dunk in curry.

Appetizers: $5 – 7; Entree: $14 – 18

Open for lunch and dinner daily

262 Cedar Lane, Vienna;

(January 2014)