Hoysala in Somerset, NJ is the best Indian buffet in New Jersey. There. I’ve gone and said it. It is not a judgment I make lightly. I have lived in Central Jersey for more than 40 years and have tried out many of the restaurants in this area, many of them more than once. None of them comes close to Hoysala.in fact, while I can’t claim to have tried all the Indian restaurants in N.Y/ N.J, I have never sampled better Indian food anywhere in the tri-state region.
Hoysala is one of a kind, in that it’s food is not Mughlai / North Indian and neither is it a dosa and idli joint. Hoysala offers the food of the South Western Indian state of Karnataka, a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Hoysala, BTW, is named for of an ancient royal dynasty of Karnataka.
The restaurant has an unusual L shaped layout, with one dining room in each of its wings. There is one U-shaped buffet in the middle but on weekends , when the restaurant gets crowded and both dining rooms are in use, another buffet is opened up for the use of patrons in the second dining room.
What I like about the food at Hoysala is that , in addition to being very tasty, it is lighter and healthier than standard Indian restaurant fare. It is spicy without being excessively hot yet the spices are used with an expert hand and there are none of the heavy gravies you encounter in Mughlai or North Indian restaurants. While most of the food is vegetarian , there are yet enough choices to satisfy non-vegetarians.Typically, the appetizers include dosas, potato bhaji, idlis, vadas and one or two kinds of bhajias ( pakoras) with two or three kinds of chutneys, sambhar and rasam. The buffet offers several salads and raitas, three or four vegetable palyas( curries) and at least three non-vegetarian dishes.Of the rice varieties, you have a choice of plain rice, curd rice, vegetable pulao and Chicken biriyani. While you should sample whatever catches your eye, two dishes you absolutely should not miss are the fried chicken and the chicken biriyani, both of which are exceptional. My niece , who is something a foodie, claims that she has never had better fried chicken than the one at Hoysala. Desserts usually consist of ice cream and one other Indian sweet such as sheera or ras malai.
Drinks ( coffee, soft drinks, lassi ) are extra but , if you want to be adventurous you might want to try a typical Karnataka drink , Majjige ( Spiced buttermilk flavored with ginger, curry leaves, chillies and spices).
Generally , my modus operandi at Hoysala is to start out with a plate of appetizers ( pakoras, idlis, vada, dosa with sambhar and chutneys). I follow this with another plate of the curries, rotis, rice and pappadoms. Then a small plate of curd rice and pickle before I sample the desserts.
What I have described is the weekday buffet. The weekend buffet is even more elaborate and features more choices. Usually , it has two additional meat dishes and two more desserts. The lunch buffet is available from 11:30 to 2:30 ( 12:00 to 3:00 on weekends) and the dinner buffet is from 7 PM onwards.
There is also an a la carte menu available in the evening but I have never tried it. The buffet priced at under $ 15 offers so many choices that I can’t bring myself to order just a few dishes a la carte. Still, I must say that some of the a la carte choices appear intriguing, among them Malnad Chicken, Karavalli Shrimp. Fish/ Shrimp fry , Kerala Fish, Chettinadu Goat, Alsande Saaru and Spinach Lentil Thouve.
Service at Hoysala is excellent, polite as well as efficient.The buffet is replenished constantly so that the food you eat is always fresh and hot. Empty plates are cleared away in a jiffy and orders for coffee or other extras are taken and executed with dispatch. Patrons who are not familiar with Indian food can ask fellow diners or the wait staff who are unfailingly courteous and helpful.
If you haven’t been to Hoysala, you owe it to yourself to visit it soon. One bit of advice: If you are going there on a weekend, go there early in the lunch hour. After 12:30 on weekends it gets very crowded and you may have to wait to be seated.
Hoysala, Highwood Plaza,2 JFK Boulevard , Somerset NJ 08873.