The Place: Gateway to India, 1960 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 364-4777, gatewaytoindiasrq.com. Equal parts local hangout and magical escape. A cool and cozy enclave, the windowless dining room is intimately lit, with rich, dark fabrics and other traditional Indian décor. Despite its local popularity, Gateway to India still exudes a “secret hideaway” kind of vibe.
The People: In-the-know natives swapping stories; Indian ex-pats grabbing comfort food to-go.
Time Factor: After you serve yourself from the buffet, it really just depends on how fast you can eat—and how many return trips you make.
The Food: More of a family-style presentation than an expansive spread, the lunch buffet ($9.99) lets you load up on a dozen or so daily dishes, including varieties of rice and salads, as well as stellar samples of classic Indian cuisine, offering a broad spectrum of flavors and levels of spiciness. Think masala, vindaloo and tandoori—chicken, lamb, shrimp or vegetarian—all depending on the day’s selection. Oh, and let’s not forget the naan, brought in a basket for the table: Warm and doughy, it’s perfectly suited for its task of sopping up sauces from your plate. -Hannah Wallace