When a friend described to me, she said cheerfully, "Just think of an Indian version of Pei Wei." She was mostly correct. The set up is very similar, but there are some distinct differences. Like Pei Wei, Masala Wok is also packed at lunchtime and does a phenomenal carry-out business, but there are some excellent Asian selections on their menu as well.
There are five other locations for Masala Wok, all in Texas. The Herndon location is the first of two franchises located outside of Texas; the other one is in Fairfax. It is unusual for a restaurant chain, even a small one, to venture so far from their home base for their next venture, but in the four years they have been at the Herndon location, their business is booming. The reason is because their Indian food is magnificent.
Most Indian restaurants offer a large buffet, with all-you-can-eat specials, which is great if you can go back to your desk at work and nap for a while in the afternoon. An all-you-can-eat buffet is difficult to do if you are on a tight lunch schedule. Masala Wok is wildly popular with diners who prefer authentic Indian cuisine, on a budget, on a short lunch hour. For example, their most popular dish, Tikka Masala (a chicken dish) is only $8.99, add a soft drink, and the bill total is still under $10.
Even for a co-worker who "does not like Indian food," once they have tasted Tikka Masala Chicken, they will be back for more.
As with Pei Wei, customers order at a front counter, and take a number to a table while you collect your silverware and beverage from a counter in the back of the restaurant. One the several times I have eaten there, the food is always prompt and very well prepared. Their nan, which is made on site, is consistently tender and fresh-hot from the oven. Their entrees rarely sit under a heat lamp for even a minute before they are retrieved and quickly served to waiting customers.
Atmosphere? It is very dark inside, with dark tables and dark green carpeting, as they keep the lights turned way down. It is difficult to read their billboard menu when it is that dark—the wording is in dark red on a black background. Simply review their online menu before visiting, or pick up a menu next to the counter.
One taste of their food, especially their Butter Masala chicken, served with white basmati rice and nan, and you will be hooked on the taste and flavors of this tiny restaurant. It has a tang of tomato sauce with cream, and subtle flavors of coriander, butter and pepper. Ask for more spice if you dare—it is fantastic.
For their Asian selections, their Broccoli Chicken is delicious. Their Spicy Basil Chicken is equally good, and we found that their lamb was very tasty and tender when it was ordered in their dishes.
On a Saturday night, this dining room is largely empty, but there is a steady stream of pickups for carry out, even forming a line at one point. Portions are generous. "We get a lot of carryout business, especially on weekends," said one employee behind the cash register.
Skip their appetizers, and their desserts, as most of them are below average and not worth the price. Their "garden rolls" were mostly pasty wrappers with very little filling. Stick with the main event, the entrees, at this place. On busy nights, you may see us in line for carry-out next week.