In the nearly five years I’ve been writing plant-based reviews, one thing has been reliable: East and South Asian dining is super vegan-friendly. Indian food in particular always has great potential, though that darn ghee — clarified butter — can sneak into even the basics such as rice and naan. So it requires a bit of sleuthing to find a local spot that offers plant-specific plates.
Zaika Indian Cuisine eliminates the guesswork with a menu that clearly delineates “V” for vegan on any item that fits the bill — and there are more than 15 options on the dinner menu alone.
Nestled among yoga, fitness and dance studios on Centennial Boulevard, the bright, colorful restaurant is expansive and bustling, even on a weeknight, with tables of four and more sharing plates. And sharing is what our crew did because we had so many choices.
We started with the quintessential veggie Samosa ($5) — two to a serving — a potato- and pea-filled pastry that offers a crisp bite surrounding the mashed veggies. Served with tamarind sauce and green chutney, our table of four devoured them and wished we had ordered two servings. Until the onion Pakora ($5) arrived, that is. Think classy onion rings, South Asian-style. This won’t necessarily fall under a healthy category, but it does fall under tasty. Also served with the traditional sauces, these greasy tendrils were a treat.
While the “traditional” and tandoori offerings slight the vegan diner, all is forgiven because seven of the nine “special offerings” are vegan. The Chana Masala ($13) is an Indian classic and Zaika’s take is characteristically spot-on. Savory chickpeas swim in a tangy tomato sauce spiced with chiles and ginger.
An equally strong entrée is the tofu Palak ($14). It is a particular vegan standout because traditional Palak Paneer (cheese) isn’t vegan and it’s usually served in a verdant spinach puree. No cheese here: The tofu stands in for the protein and is smothered in a rosy, creamy coconut sauce with flecks of leafy greens. (Note: Ordered as is, this dish is very hot — heat-adverse diners will want to request it mild.)
We balanced the two high-protein dishes with two divergent vegetable dishes. The golden Aaloo Gobi ($14) — turmeric and curried cauliflower and potatoes (which I consider Indian-style mashed potatoes) — is fragrant and pairs perfectly with the Chana Masala. Our crew was pleasantly surprised by the Khatta Bhindi ($14) — a culinary stretch for all of us because Bhindi is okra and apparently we were traumatized by the often-slimy vegetable at some point in our upbringings. But this colorful version was different, likely because it’s pan-fried to a crisp and served with sautéed red and green bell peppers and onion. We went through a couple of bowls of brown rice with our meal and couldn’t resist the roti ($3) — a whole grain flatbread — on the side.
A full bar serves up specialty drinks ($8), wine ($6-$7), beer ($4-$10) and a wide range of liquor ($5-$10).
Zaika Indian Cuisine delivers everything I want from a South Asian restaurant: fragrant, flavorful vegan fare made with confidence and care. It’s a great addition to the Colorado Springs culinary scene.
Rating total: 4.75 of 5 forks
Food: 4.75 of 5 forks
Ambiance: 4.5 of 5 forks
Service: 5 of 5 forks
Venue character: Casual with panache
Address: 4661 Centennial Blvd
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; Closed Sunday
Credit cards: Yes
Non-vegan options: cheese, fish, lamb and chicken
Gluten-free options: Yes
Outdoor dining: No
What’s online as of Jan. 23:
• 3.5 of 5 based on 14 reviews on Yelp
• 5 of 5 based on 5 votes on Trip Advisor
Excellent rating Dec. 4 by El Paso County Public Health.