Friends Indian Cuisine (https://friendsindiancuisine.com/) is a new halal Indian restaurant on South Semoran Boulevard, just north of Curry Ford Road in South Orlando, south of State Road 408. It opened earlier this year (2022) and is building a loyal following due to excellent word of mouth. The location has hosted a handful of restaurants before, but hopefully Friends is here to stay. I have dined in twice and brought home takeout another time, so I couldn’t wait on this review any longer. The short version: Friends is fantastic. It’s another great recommendation to Orlando’s Indian restaurant scene, which I am slowly but surely working my way through.
From my first takeout trip, I brought home the two dishes I know my wife likes: butter chicken (left; $13.99) and palak paneer (right; $12.99) — both mild, for her sake. The butter chicken is a delicious dish that was her gateway to appreciating Indian food: shredded dark meat chicken (all leg meat) stewed in a creamy tomato sauce. It is very similar to chicken tikka masala (also on the menu for $14.99), but I’ve brought both to my wife before, and she prefers the butter chicken. I love it too. The palak paneer is cubes of cottage cheese (the paneer part) cooked with spinach in a creamy sauce. It is another great gateway dish for people unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, especially vegetarians. I’ve ordered an extremely similar dish called saag paneer at other Indian restaurants, but I just researched the difference: palak paneer is always made with spinach, while saag paneer can be made with spinach and/or any other leafy greens, particularly mustard greens. Mystery solved!
I ordered lamb karahi ($14.99) for myself: boneless lamb strips cooked with tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers in a curry sauce, served over basmati rice that came on the side. Normally I order hot lamb vindaloo at Indian restaurants, but I switched it up to try the karahi for the first time. I still got it hot, but it was a lot less vinegary and pungent than the vindaloo.
I brought home an appetizer portion of vegetable pakoras ($4.99), a serving of six mixed vegetable patties dipped in chickpea batter and fried until golden-brown and crispy. I thought my wife would like them too, but I ended up enjoying them more than she did, especially with tamarind sauce for dipping.
This was an order of tandoori paratha (top; $3.49), which is whole wheat bread layered with butter, and regular butter naan (bottom; $2.49, or you can get it with your entree as an alternative to plain basmati rice). I wanted my wife to be able to compare and contrast them, but they were very similar. Both breads were soft and warm from having been baked in a clay oven called a tandoor, and we really enjoyed both. I am more used to buttery, flaky Malaysian-style parathas than the Indian variety, so this tandoori paratha was much more naan-like. But trust me — I could eat these naan-stop.
If you don’t feel like ordering off the menu, or if you’re a newer convert to the wonderfulness of Indian food, Friends Indian Cuisine offers a daily all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $12.99 on weekdays and $14.99 on weekends, from 11:30 AM until 3:30 PM. I’ve had the lunch buffet twice now, and it is terrific. The dishes on the buffet are all mildly spiced for a wide range of palates.
Here are all the options from my most recent visit:
You grab your plate near the naan bread, aloo pakora (crispy battered and fried potatoes that were replenished right after I took this photo, of course), a lentil soup, that I did not try, and sweet gulab jamon, a dessert dish of cake-like balls in a sugary syrup.
Here you have plain white basmati rice, palak paneer (which we have already established is awesome), mixed vegetable curry, and aloo cholay, a dish with cubed potatoes and chickpeas cooked in a spicy curry sauce.
Moving down the line, they offer vegetable rice pilaf, chicken biryani (terrific), chicken curry, chicken korma in a creamy cashew sauce, butter chicken (I love this so much), and moist and tender tandoori chicken thighs and legs.
And finally, you can get cool, creamy raita (a yogurt sauce that is perfect for neutralizing spicy dishes), green chutney, tangy-sweet tamarind sauce, intimidating-looking green chili peppers, chopped red onion, lemon and orange wedges, a green salad, and rice pudding, another sweet dish.
This was my first plate, where I sampled a little bit of everything. The butter chicken, tandoori chicken, palak paneer, and chicken biryani were my favorites from the lunch buffet.
On my most recent trip to the buffet with two work colleagues, I got an order of vegetable samosas ($4.99) for us to share. These were perfect potato pyramids, with seasoned potatoes and peas in lightly fried, crispy crusts. They split one and liked it, and I was too full to try mine until the next morning at home, but it was still great then.
Since Friends Indian Cuisine is so convenient to my job, I look forward to becoming more of a regular over the months and years, even as I branch out and continue to try other Indian restaurants throughout Orlando. My family NEVER ate Indian food when I was growing up in Miami, and I never ate it that often until the last few years, in my quest to discover the best food anywhere and everywhere and share my thoughts on it. Now I’m making up for lost time, and I’m thrilled to recommend one more great local Indian restaurant to expand my palate and my experience.
And hey, if you were expecting a Friends reference since I always make pop culture references in my restaurant reviews, sorry to disappoint you, but I always hated that show.