As is typical for me, I am thinking about dinner plans well before lunch. One Wednesday morning, I put my order together at 11 a.m. and waited eagerly for Kohinoor to open for dinner at 4:30. I chose an appetizer, four entrees, and some sides because I was very hungry. As is also typical for me, I had to shout my order into the phone over my chattering 4-year-old and crying infant. Flustered, I forgot to order a dessert, but luckily I ended up with so much food I would not have room anyway.

Entrees at Kohinoor come with rice or naan — which were plentiful. 


This photo shows a seriously huge amount of naan. The bread is typically oblong shaped but sown here folded over on a pice of aluminum foil. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

Also, I may have ordered extra naan because I ended up with at least two pounds of it.

A photo of various styrofoam and foil take out containers on a wood table with white background. There is a gash of naan break bursting out of the foil. Some containers are labled with contents but text cannot be read. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

Kohinoor has a large and descriptive menu. It is also straightforward to find online. This makes it easy to call in a carryout order or plan your dine-in dinner. I love their big vegetarian menu and appreciate that many of the dishes can be requested as vegan.

A open square, white, styrofoam take out containder is photographed closely. Inside there are two plastic take out cups. One contains a green chutney, the other a red chutney. On a piece of parchement paper there are six fried pakora. The items appear as brown amorphus masses. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

First, I enjoyed an order of vegetable pakora ($5.99) which were mashed potatoes and cauliflower battered in a spiced chickpea batter and fried. A healthy serving of six nicely browned pieces were served with cilantro and tamarind chutney for dipping. The pakora bites were crispy and dense with a nice spice level. They were much improved by dipping in the tangy cilantro or sweet tamarind chutney.

On a previous order from Kohinoor, all of the food I received was way too hot for my taste so in my selections for this article I specifically looked for milder items. This time everything had a reasonably mild level of spice. I was able to eat without dousing everything in yogurt sauce and was able to share the food with my kids. This speaks a bit to the inconsistency of spice levels I’ve found at other local restaurants as well.

This is a close up photo of the dish: vegeterian korma on a small bed of rice. Large chunks of potato are speckled with green peas and green beans are coated in a creamy red sauce. IN the sauce you can see specks of spices.  Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The vegetable korma ($11.99) included chunks of potato, green beans, and peas served in a creamy curry. This was a favorite of my kids. It was marked mild on the menu, and this order was very mild but still had a nice flavor from the garam masala and was cooled by the coconut milk.

A close view of a spoon full of baingan bharta on top of rice with a torn piece of naan. Large slices of onion appear in a chunky red sauce of tomatos and eggplant. On the paingan bharta is a wad of green cilantro. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

I am a huge fan of eggplant, so I ordered baingan bharta ($11.99). The menu described this dish as eggplant blended with sauteed onion, tomato, and peas. Typically the eggplant is fire-roasted giving the dish a mildly smoky flavor. To eat this dish, I scooped it up with pieces of naan to shovel into my mouth. While there were not any peas in this dish, it was packed with onions and tomatoes.

This is a photo of a small serving of mushroom fried rice on a white plate. The fried rice is a brown color with several large chunks of mushroom, a pea, and slices of green onion. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The third vegan dish I enjoyed was the mushroom fried rice which included basmati rice sauteed with mushrooms, soy, veggies, and spices. This was a step above the usual fried rice fare. It had a great sweet-soy flavor elevated by a touch of acid with plenty of vegetables as well. I usually do not order fried rice, but I absolutely would have this dish again.

A serving of paneer tikka tandori and torn naan on a white plate. The naan bread is shades of dark and light brown and topped with a wilted bit of lettuce and a large rectange of tandoori baked paneer. There are several large chunks of green pepper and onion. All is topped with a bright orange tikka sauce and a bit of cilantro. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

The surprise of the night was Kohinoor’s paneer tikka tandoori special ($13.99). Described as tandoori-roasted cheese cubes marinated in mixed species, bell pepper, and onion, this meal was beautiful and brightly colored with plenty of big chunks of paneer, onions, and green bell peppers. Confusingly, this was served on a small bed of lettuce. I assume this presentation is pretty in the restaurant but did not lend itself to take out. By the time I opened the take-out container, there was just a slimy piece of lettuce underneath. I appreciate this vegetarian option for a dish not typically available without meat. Kohinoor makes their paneer, a common Indian cheese, in house daily. In this dish, the paneer held up nicely to grilling and was a great vessel for the tandoori spice and delicious sauce.

This is a photo of the paneer kulcha. On the left side of this photo is a large circe of naan break on aluminum foil on a wooden table background. On the right side is a slice of the same bread on a white plate. The naan is various shades of brown and stuffed with paneer which can faintly be seen as little chunks of white. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

I had one minor disappointment with the paneer kulcha which is basically naan stuffed with paneer and herbs. I ordered this dish based on the very yummy looking photo on the website of a round of nicely browned naan pulling apart to reveal melty, stretchy white cheese. All glistening and fatty looking. Kind of like an Indian grilled cheese sandwich.

I am not sure if I actually ordered the same dish or not, but the resulting food did not live up to the photo on their website. Paneer is not known to melt well, so it ended up as gritty little chunks of cheese layered between naan. The flavor was good, but I totally wanted a cheesy, melty mess.

A photo of a plate of food on a gray-speckled counter. The white plain contains naan and various indian dishes discussed in the article over rice. Most of the food is brown with flecks of green. One item, paneer tikka tandori, is bright orange with a green pepper chunk. Photo by Sara Ressing.Photo by Sara Ressing.

In all, each of these main dishes had a distinct flavor profile. With two other Indian food restaurants in town, the competition is tough. I think there is a reason Kohinoor is consistently rated well. As far as vegan and vegetarian-friendly places to eat in C-U, Kohinoor is absolutely one of the top choices. It is defintely worth a visit or a takeout order if you haven't tried Kohinoor yet.

If you are interested in learning more about Kohinoor, you can see our interview with co-owner of Kohinoor Ujjwal Ghimire here or read about Alyssa's love for the thali lunch special

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

Top image by Sara Ressing.