June 2006 Cheap Eats

At night, the drop-down screen in the Fairfax dining room of these Indian standbys flickers with Bollywood-style videos. Diners can't resist looking up from their curries and biryanis to watch the sinuous, colorfully clad dancers while cooling their mouths.

At lunchtime, the screen goes up–and no wonder: The buffet is show enough.

The restaurant has established two stations to handle the dizzying and mostly delicious array of dishes–dosas, samosas, pakoras, curries, biryanis, tandoori meats, breads–and the hungry hordes that stream through the doors on weekdays for one of the area's best bargains at $8.95 a person.

Given the pride of place the restaurant accords its buffet, it's probably to be expected that dinner is a less-rewarding experience. Cooking in large, mess-hall-size batches, the kitchen tends to accumulate a backlog of items that never make it out to the buffet, some of which find their way into dishes later in the day. And what might constitute fine service at a buffet, where minimal attention is to be expected, can feel like neglect come dinner time.

Still, the cooking is generally full of bite and heat and depth, and the curries, brought to the table in little copper pots, are all worthwhile. And Minerva is one of the few restaurants in the area with an Indian/Chinese menu–a separate slate of dishes well worth exploring.

Appetizers $3.95 to $7.95; entrées $8.95 to $13.95; buffet $8.95 weekdays, $10.95 weekends. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.