At Arun's Indian Kichen in Coral Springs, It's Service Above All

A juice bar in Dania Beach where the "Green Goat [smoothie] and Happy Hippy [wrap] is a favorite combo." A sandwich shop in Sunrise that offers "without a doubt... the BEST SUB EVER." A breakfast place in Margate that bakes up giant cinnamon rolls "that will blow your mind." An Italian restaurant in Pembroke Pines that serves a ravioli duo dish that's "a must." A Peruvian restaurant in Hollywood that offers "amazing authentic ceviche." And a seafood shack in Jupiter that's simply "DEEELlSH."

These are just a few of the places (and some of the sentiments) listed on Yelp's Top 100 Places to Eat in Broward and Palm Beach 2015 — specifically, it's what people are saying about the ten most popular establishments that created the most buzz in 2014.

At the top of this list sits Arun's Indian Kichen in Coral Springs. Since opening in 2014, the restaurant has retained a top spot on Yelp's Hot 100 in South Florida (and #16 on the user-reviewed site's Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. for 2015). Today, with more than 540 reviews, of which over 475 are rated five stars, Arun's is the number-one-rated restaurant in Broward and Palm Beach, according to Yelpers.

For Arun's Indian Kichen chef-owner Arun Sareen, the secret to such success isn't just the food coming out of his tiny takeout kitchen. Most important, it's about customer service.

"I literally do everything in my power to make your meal the best you've had," says Sareen. "When you do a little bit extra, you'll see the benefits."

A self-taught chef, Sareen opened his first restaurant, Khana Kh'zana, in Coral Springs in 2010. For two years he ran it day and night, acting as dishwasher and server, chef and manager. The hard work and dedication paid off, and he earned a loyal following for his affordable, consistent, home-cooked fare. When his wife relocated from India to join him stateside several years later, Sareen says he sold the business, trading long hours at the now-established eatery for time with his family.

Chef/owner Arun Sareen
Chef/owner Arun Sareen
Photo by CandaceWest.com

Despite the sale, Sareen stayed on as a cook for a time. When the new owners began changing recipes and running things subpar, he left. And many of his customers left with him.

"People knew I'd gone, and many were begging me to open a new place," says Sareen. "I had an idea for a takeout concept, a place where everything would be made fresh, from scratch, every day. Nothing stays, nothing recycled, no food left in the kitchen at the end of the day. That was my goal."

It's been two years since Arun's Indian Kichen emerged from the shadows of Sareen's once-successful Khana Kh'zana. Today, hardly anyone speaks of the old restaurant, which still operates nearby. Instead, Sareen's loyal patronage head across the road to his small and tidy takeout restaurant situated at the center of a narrow shopping plaza off Sample Road.

Marked by a red sign and a single table outside the door, it's the type of place people visit once or twice a week, with locals who frequently call in orders and hundreds more who line up at the small order window in back. Here, they'll happily wait up to 45 minutes for a taste of Sareen's cooking.

The chef estimates that close to 90 percent of the business is takeout. Only a few will opt to dine in, snagging one of four tables or any of the bar stools by the window, digging into their to-go containers right then and there. If there's no room inside, they'll sit on the sidewalk outside.

Cheese pakoras
Cheese pakoras
Photo by CandaceWest.com

Peek behind the cashier, and you'll get a full view of the restaurant's kitchen, where you'll often find Sareen himself cooking beside his wife, Anu; son, Yesh; and longtime friend Chandarn Manges.

Sareen — born and raised in the Punjab state of India — says he began cooking professionally when he came to the U.S. in 2001. Many of his recipes have been developed through trial and error, based on memories of his childhood when his mother would prepare meals for the family.

"I watched and figured out how to do it better," says Sareen, who hand-grinds most of his spices. "Proportion is key. Every spice has its own power, its own properties, and can give a different flavor when used whole versus ground. That's what sets my cooking apart from other restaurants: proportion."

In truth, Indian restaurants don't get a lot of love in South Florida. Their roster usually includes a few curry dishes, chewy naan, creamy saag paneer, and some beef vindaloo. But Arun's is not your typical Indian restaurant. There's no buffet. The air isn't permeated with a heavy cloud of spices.

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Because everything is made to-order, the first question you'll be asked is, "How hot?" Regulars know to reply on a scale of one to ten. The higher you go, the spicier it gets. And yes, ten will singe your sinuses and set your mouth on fire.

Start with appetizers like vegetable pakora, a pile of mildly spiced vegetable fritters. Also known as bhajias, they're a popular snack of chopped spinach, carrot, cauliflower, cabbage, and potato rolled in spices and chickpea flour and then fried. There's also an onion version if that's more your style.

Samosas
Samosas
Photo by CandaceWest.com

Two tandoori clay ovens bake up a variety of breads, including the house-made flatbread-like naan. It comes complimentary with most meals, a plain or heady garlic version Sareen's wife makes from scratch by forming a creamy batter of milk, salt, sugar, and yogurt that bakes up thick and chewy with a crisp shell.

Like many Indian restaurants, vegetable dishes dominate the menu here. Of the more than 15 dishes, the paneer korma is dubbed a "royal delicacy" with its combination of fresh cottage cheese cubes cooked in a dulcet cream sauce. Vegetables, rendered mushy-soft, absorb the liquid like a sponge producing a sloppy mess that's perfect for shoveling into your mouth via a handful of naan.

Lamb rogan josh, a dish originally from Pakistan and the Kashmir region of Northern India from which Sareen hails, is also here. After the meat marinates in yogurt and a blend of curry-like spices, Sareen cooks it with onions, peppers, and still more spice — each in exacting proportion — from cardamom, cloves, and ginger to cinnamon, coriander, and fennel seeds.

Over the years, Sareen's butter chicken — a classic Indian staple — has gained a cult-like status, consisting of buttery-soft cubes of chicken bobbing in a mild, orange-tinged curry stew. By far the most popular dish on the menu, Sareen will serve dozens a day, his tomato-and-onion base thickened more from pureed almonds than butter and seasoned with garam masala, giving it a velvety texture and smooth, nutty flavor.

You won't find all the traditional Indian desserts here, but instead a choice of just two: galubjamun and rasmalai. Order enough food and Sareen will often throw in a few containers of galubjamun on the house, a sort of fortune cookie to the Indian takeout experience, tiny golden fried balls of milk pastry soaked in sweet cardamom syrup that are best when warm. Pop one into your mouth and chew slowly, letting the syrupy-sweet sauce ooze into every corner of your mouth.

"People literally love us, and that's the most important thing," says Sareen. "They show their loyalty, and I never take any of that for granted."

Arun's Indian Kichen

10278 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs. Hours are Monday through Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. Call 954-227-1123, or visit indiankichen.com.

  • Vegetable pakora, $2.95
  • Lamb rogan josh, $11.95
  • Butter chicken, $11.95
  • Paneer korma, $9.95
  • Galub jamun, $2
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Arun’s Indian Kichen

10278 W. Sample Rd.
Coral Springs, FL

954-227-1123

www.indiankichen.com


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