If you are wanting a warm, filling lunch, Kohinoor's thali lunch special of Northern Indian dishes, rice, and naan hit the spot. In the Hindi language, 'thali' means 'the plate,' and the lunch is served on a metal platter with small metal bowls of different dishes. There are four versions of the thali lunch special at Kohinoor: vegetarian, special vegetarian, non-vegetarian, and special non-vegetarian.

I ordered the special non-vegetarian thali lunch ($14.99). It included lamb curry, dai makhani, chicken curry, tandoori chicken tikka, one samosa, naan, rice, and kheer. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Starting on the left, the first dish I ate was the lamb curry which was topped with cilantro. The lamb was tender, and the curry was mild, meaty, and outstanding. The dai makhani was a lentils dish with great hearty flavor. The chicken curry had lots of tender chicken bites soaking an amazing spicy, peppery curry. To me (as a fan of spicy food), this chicken curry nailed the heat level: a soft warmth on the palate that required rice, naan, or the cooling sauce to balance. The bright red chicken tikka had two piping hot cuts of boneless chicken served over lettuce. This was spicy but so good especially when dipped in the cooling sauce. 

The naan was warm, and the rice was cooked well. I loved the samosa which had a flaky pastry exterior wrapped around a savory filling with potatoes, peas, and a deep, developed spice. The kheer was a white, tasty rice pudding which gave a little sweetness.

As far as the lunch specials go, the regular vegetarian lunch ($12.99) also sounded good to me. It includes paneer makhani, yellow dal, mixed vegetable curry, chana aloo, rice, naan, and dessert. It's the only lunch with a dessert, and so I'm going to have to order that next.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Pointing to the sauces, the naan, and the curries, my server told me that they make everything from scratch daily; the staff arrives at 7 a.m. to prep everything for the day. I could taste the hard work and the care that went into my food: it was terrific.

The lunch was served with a trio of sauces plus a cucumber-yogurt cooling sauce ("If the food gets too spicy for you!" my server said). The red tamarind sauce was my favorite; I put it on everything! Plus, all the wines (and there were quite a variety) were only $8. Both American and Indian beers were available as well. If you want something fruity and refreshing, Tias recommends the mango lassi.

Thali lunch at Kohinoor is a great way to sample many dishes all at once. As someone with a short attention span, I loved having a bite of the lamb curry, then chicken curry, then chicken tikka — and a samosa, too. On a cold day, you need to try Kohinoor's lunch special and let it warm you up.

Kohinoor
6 E Columbia
Champaign
M 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. 
W+Th 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.
F+Sa 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 10 p.m.
Su noon to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.