The corner, a simple geometric concept, has always been larger than life in popular culture. In “Down on the Corner,” Creedence Clearwater Revival sang about playing at an intersection for spare change. A few years later, Barbra Streisand compared memories to the “corners of my mind.” On streets throughout the region, so many corners look the same that an irregular one is interesting in itself. In Tempe, the literally off-the-grid intersection of Terrace and Apache is home to Curry Corner, a Pakistani restaurant that incorporates its location into its name.
Where diagonal Terrace Road meets Apache Boulevard and the light rail track turns east just before the Dorsey / Apache Station, there’s an ordinary strip mall on the northeast corner. Curry Corner, a descendant for the former Copper Kettle restaurant that was located up the street, is right in the middle of the plaza. A bike rack is nearby at the east end of the building. The restaurant recently expanded by taking over the adjacent hookah bar, setting the stage for a recent visit by Guy Fieri for an episode of his “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” show.
Curry Corner proclaims itself an “Indo-Pak” restaurant. While many eateries that identify themselves as “Indian” are run by Pakistani owners, Curry Corner is straightforward about its Pakistani origins, and the differences between the cuisines of the two nations become apparent to anyone who explores the menu — both the printed one and the board near the kitchen entrance that lists various specials. While Curry Corner has moved closer to full service with its recent expansion, guests still choose their own seats and pay for meals at the cash register.
This is a family run establishment without a big front-of-house staff. It may take a few minutes for someone to appear in the dining room. Once there, they’ll be happy to answer questions about the menu, which will seem vaguely familiar to anyone who dines frequently at Indian restaurants but is also full of less familiar dishes from Pakistan, as well as influences from Afghanistan and Iran. Starters include samosas and pakora, bost staples of Indian buffets, and aloo tiki, perhaps the best of the choices with three peppery vegetable fritters right out of the fryer.
Many of the dishes emphasize meat, often chicken but sometimes beef, lamb, or even goat. The traditional curry has rich flavor. Boxed garam masala is sometimes visible when the kitchen door is open, but don’t assume pre-mixed spices are the whole story here. The dish is assertively flavored and comes with a cinnamon stick amid the meat. The one aspect of this dish that might take some getting used to is that there isn’t much more to it than meat and sauce. Don’t expect potatoes or vegetables as one might see in curries at nearby Thai or Japanese restaurants.
Another classic here is chicken tikka masala, hunks of poultry marinated in yogurt, roasted, and then presented in a rich, creamy sauce. Chicken also works well in the karahi dish, where the principal flavors are tomatoes, onions, fresh cilantro, and chili heat. Chicken handi, which, like karahi, is named for the vessel in which it is traditionally prepared, uses a darker, spicier tomato sauce. Sazbi handi adds spinach to the mix. All these dishes can also be made with goat, a stronger tasting meat for those who don’t mind some bone and fat along the way.
Beef is best enjoyed here on kabobs of spiced, ground meat. They’re available on their own, or as part of a tandoori mixed grill alongside several pieces of tender chicken tikka and a large piece of leg-and-thigh dark meat served on the bone. Like many of the entrees here, the tandoori dishes benefit not only from grilled onions on the platter, but also a side of pickled onions that add a tart note to the smoky meat when everything is scooped up and combined in a piece of naan. Pickling spices also figure prominently in the chicken achari dish.
Despite the meaty emphasis at Curry Corner, there’s a vegetarian section on the menu with numerous items featuring paneer cheese and dishes such as kabli chana, which is made from chick peas in a fiery sauce. These are all well prepared, and the best way to sample them is via the vegetarian thali, which combines two curries of the restaurant’s choosing with some dal, a serving of rice, a piece of naan, and a few condiments all artfully displayed on a round metal platter. Expect the curries to include ingredients such as pureed spinach or roasted eggplant.
Since Pakistan is predominantly Islamic, there’s no liquor license at Curry Corner. Instead, enjoy one of yogurt-based lassi drinks in sweet, salty, or mango varieties. Water and sodas are self-service from the fountain at the back of the dining room. There are two dessert options: Kheer is a soupy rice pudding with delicate seasonings; halwa is more like a hot cereal studded with slivered almonds. Both are pleasing ways to extinguish any lingering heat from the curries and masalas, and both come in portions generous enough for two or three people to share.
Despite its recent expansion and move toward more of a full service model, Curry Corner is still delivering solid meal values with nothing on the menu exceeding $10. Right now, the restaurant is never so crowded that it’s necessary to wait for a table. Will that change after Fieri’s show airs this spring? Most restaurants featured on the program experience at least a temporary surge in business. With so many local intersections dominated by gas stations or convenience stores, it is refreshing that the corner of Terrace and Apache in Tempe is distinguished by its curry.
1212 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe AZ 85281
Dorsey / Apache Station