Akbar in Columbia serves northern Indian food, the curries and breads on most menus and certainly the main dishes -- chicken tikka, palak paneer, etc. -- that introduced us to Indian food. (Mrs. HowChow first ate Indian at Akbar's Baltimore branch. She ordered spicy because that seemed like a good idea, then sweated so much through the meal that her boyfriend's parents were concerned about her.) These are the menus that make restaurants like Mango Grove's southern cuisine seem unusual. But Akbar's is still a menu worth visiting.
Start your meal by planning to have dessert. This is heavy food. If you don't plan right, you'll be full and won't try the rice pudding. Kheer is a small bowl of rice pudding -- sweet with the flavor of milk, soft rice just firm enough for texture, but smooth and refreshing.
Back to the main attraction: curries and meat from the oven. We had not been to Akbar in a while, so we went basic on our recent visit -- chicken korma and baignan bartha. We ordered both medium, but they're not "jalepeno"-spicy dishes. The spices are more subtle, and they're both delicious with the complex taste that makes Indian food so wonderful. The chicken has a yogurt-based sauce, and it is rich without being overwhelming. The eggplant was sweeter than I remembered. Maybe with tomato? They come with a yellow long-grained rice.
But it's naan that makes this meal. A warm piece of lightly-browned bread. A touch of butter melted on top, but it stays crisp even as it cools. Ready to tear and scoop up meat and rice. In the end, Mrs. HowChow will take naan and a chicken korma over masala dosas or even the fusion food at Mirchi Wok. I still love variety, but there is nothing better than the naan. I should have ordered a second to take home with the leftovers.
Akbar's is really old-school. The colors and decor come straight from the 1980s. It's the kind of place that has white tablecloths, but the chairs have gotten scuffed over time. Not that there is anything worn about the menu, which ranges out to shrimp, lamb, and a full array of vegetable options. There are specials, and I'd love to go back with a large table to taste them all. I'll still save room for that rice pudding.
One final thought: If you want an appetizer, try something new. We started with samosas. I'd suggest you try something else. They weren't spectacular, and there must be something more interesting to try.
If you like Indian, definitely check out my post about Indian restaurants across the county, including Mango Grove and Mirchi Wok in Columbia. You can also buy Indian groceries at Desi Bazaar in Columbia or Apna Bazar in Laurel, which has an array of frozen breads.
If you are at Akbar, you are in the shopping center at Pho Dat Trahn, a nice Vietnamese restaurant.
9400 Snowden River Parkway
Columbia, MD 21045
NEAR: This is on Snowden River Parkway south of the Home Depot. That is between Rte 175 and Rte 32. It's on the west side, so you need to be southbound to enter the shopping center.