Get off I-4 at exit 74 in Orlando, and you’ll be on Sand Lake Road, near a stretch referred to as “Restaurant Row.” It is very close to the touristy International Drive, the Orange County Convention Center, and the Universal Studios theme parks. Many of the restaurants in the immediate area are upscale, aimed at convention-goers with generous per diems and expense accounts, but there are plenty of options — including some at lower price points, luckily. While I’m almost never out here to eat, there are some hidden gems that I continue to learn about all the time.
One of these Restaurant Row rewards is the radiant Rasa (https://www.eatatrasa.com/). The long, modern-designed dining room is gorgeous — sexy, even! — but instead of overpriced steaks, bank-breaking seafood, or mediocre Mexican, you can enjoy some of the most unique and interesting Indian food in Orlando. Rasa specializes in South Indian cuisine as well as Indo-Chinese, which is exactly what you think it is: Indian-Chinese fusion fare.
I don’t even drink, but that’s still a nice bar.
The most exclusive table is in the back, closed off behind glass, with a lush wall of verdant vegetation to put diners at ease.
I went with one of my closest friends who is a vegetarian, so we stuck to vegetarian dishes so we could sample and share everything. I had seen photos of the triple Schezwan [sp] rice, so I definitely wanted to try that. It comes with soft noodles, fried rice, fried noodles, peppers, broccoli, scallions, and my old foe mushrooms, which they gladly left out of our order. For our protein, we got paneer cheese ($14). Our server even warned us it was hot, but I’ve been practicing ordering “hot” Indian dishes at Moghul, and both of us love hot sauces, so we were brave and bold and went for it. It was spicy, but we handled ourselves with courage and honor. And it was a beautiful and delicious dish with incredible flavors and textures. I’m used to paneer cheese being much softer, cubed up with spinach in saag paneer, but the pieces on the left were thick, solid-feeling fried strips of the cheese, similar in consistency to dense halloumi cheese when it is grilled or pan-fried. The fried rice is underneath the cylindrical tower of soft noodles, and it’s worth excavating to find it. This was an awesome dish that I’d probably order every time I return, despite my constant impulse to branch out and try more things.
Last year, I was introduced to dosas, giant, thin, crispy crepes of fermented rice and lentil flour, when I joined fellow foodies at the Hindu Temple in Casselberry. I didn’t think my friend had ever gotten a dose of a dosa before, so we had to order the paper Masala dosa ($11). It definitely draws attention when it arrives at your table, rolled into a long, hollow, paper-thin cylinder. It was served with the most delicious curry-spiced potatoes, a thin red sauce that seemed to have chunks of eggplant, and tomato and coconut chutneys. The only way to attack this guy is to tear off pieces and dip it in different things. It is somehow crispy yet soft at the same time.
And this was the channa batura ($12): puffy white leavened bread, served with spiced chickpeas stewed with tomatoes and topped with sun-dried fenugreek leaves called kasoori methi. At first glance, it made me think of the puffy lavas bread at beloved Turkish restaurants Cappadocia and Bosphorous that I’ve reviewed before, but despite being puffed up with air, this was much thinner than either of those, with a completely different texture. It almost reminded me of a super-thin funnel cake or elephant ear — essentially fried dough, lightly crispy but also soft, and somehow in a completely different way than the dosa.
Not only did we love it, but since I brought home our leftovers, my wife loved it too — and I have yet to get her into Indian food. I just knew she would love this bread. And this was the sole recommendation from our server, who at one point warned us we might be ordering too much food! I really appreciated this recommendation.
Anyway, as much as I enjoy our closest Indian restaurant Moghul, the menu at Rasa is almost completely different, with the emphasis on South Indian and Indo-Chinese cuisines. I really liked trying so many new things and sharing them with my friend, and I would totally come back to Rasa. It’s a shame it is all the way across town. But if you’re visiting Universal Studios or the convention center, or if you want to have a hot date down that way, Rasa would be a great choice, and not just because some of the food is quite spicy. It really is a cool, sexy room with ambience you don’t get at many Indian restaurants, with a really unique menu that I haven’t encountered anywhere else.