With its streets forming a regular grid of arterials placed one mile apart and intersecting at right angles, it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between corners in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. There are subtle irregularities in the addressing system, but it takes something locally rare, streets intersecting at something other than 90 degrees, to stand out. In Tempe, the irregular intersection of Terrace and Apache is distinguished not only by the obtuse angle joining the streets, but also Curry Corner, a 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 and Tempe streetcar stop, there’s an ordinary strip mall on the northeast corner. Curry Corner is right in the middle of the plaza, which is also along the route of the Tempe Streetcar. A bike rack is nearby at the east end of the building. The restaurant has expanded over the years, absorbing adjacent storefronts into its original space. Somewhat confusingly, the door under the most visible sign is not the customer entrance. Instead, look for the door furthest to the right.
Inside the hidden entrance, there’s a sparsely decorated dining room, currently closed due to the pandemic, but open for customer seating in ordinary times. 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 nuanced differences between the cuisines of the two nations become apparent to anyone who explores the menu, which will seem somewhat familiar to anyone who dines at south Asian restaurants.
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. Hummus is one of a few influences from lands west of Pakistan. It’s paired with naan rather than pita and can be augmented with chicken or beef. The tikka masala fries are Curry Corner’s version of a decadent yet delicious trend that can be seen in the Canadian classic poutine, the Mexican-American indulgence of carne asada fries, and any other smothered fries dishes.
Among the entrees, an obvious choice for the first-time visitor is the traditional curry. Its rich flavor comes not only from a standard garam masala blend, but also touches such as a cinnamon stick sometimes spotted amid the meat and sauce. The curry here is fairly straightforward in terms of being just meat in a flavorful gravy. Vegetables or potatoes are typically not included in this type of curry but can be ordered separately. All entrees come with a choice of rice or plain naan; upgrading to garlic, potato, or cheese naan is worth the extra cost.
Another classic is chicken tikka masala, hunks of poultry marinated in yogurt, roasted, and then presented in a rich, creamy sauce. In the karahi dish, the principal flavors are tomatoes, onions, fresh cilantro, and chilies for 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. Most of these dishes can also be made with shrimp, fish, chicken, beef, lamb, or even 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 chickpeas 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 the 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.
Curry Corner has been around for two decades, starting as Copper Kettle a few blocks away before relocating to its current site. Since then, the restaurant has grown and gained exposure via the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” program, even though none of those phrases accurately describe Curry Corner’s look and feel. Host Guy Fieri is right, though, about the assertive flavors here. Although so many local intersections are dominated by right angles, gas stations, and convenience stores, it’s refreshing that one corner of Tempe is distinguished by its curry.
1212 E. Apache Blvd., Tempe AZ 85281