Aaleja is one of a growing crop of Indian-Pakistani restaurants that have sprung up in Taipei in the last five or six years, turning what was once a wasteland for South Asian food into something approaching a cosmopolitan array of offerings, though still not the scale or quality that you can find in Hong Kong or even Tokyo.
Tucked in a small alley off of Zhongxiao East Road and Yanji Street is Aaleja, headed by Pakistani chef N.A. Choudry. The fare is authentic, the prices won't leave you with an empty wallet, there is a wide variety of choices for both vegetarian and meat eaters, the portions are adequate and the staff are both friendly and hardworking.
Appetizers range from NT$70 for papadams to NT$190 for shrimp pakera. There are several raitas to choose from instead of the standard cucumber and tomato, and lots of options under the mutton, chicken, beef, seafood and vegetarian headings, plus six birayanis if you wanted a rice dish instead of breads. And all the meat is halal.
While Aaleja doesn't serve alcohol (you can bring your own) there are lots of non-alcoholic options, including fruit juices, sodas, lassis and Indian milk tea.
We went with the vegetarian samosas for starters (NT$160), then picked palak paneer (NT$230), a mixed vegetable curry (NT$200) and chicken karachi, which at NT$410 was our priciest dish. An order of garlic and butter nans, raita and mango lassis rounded off the order.
Our waitress warned us right off that a large party (12 to 14 people) had come in shortly before us and just ordered, so there would be a wait for our food.
Just as we were considering whether to eat our napkins, the samosas arrived, along with an assortment of chutneys.
Our entrees arrived shortly thereafter. The chicken karachi, which was described as a fried chicken dish, was given two-and-a-half stars. My carnivore companion liked the flavor and said the chicken was tender, but thought it could have been moister.
The best by far was the vegetable curry. It was both the spiciest and the most flavorful dish and left you wanting to lick the bowl.
The restaurant was jammed the Saturday night we went and we got the last table in the back room.
South Asia food is not of the short-order or stir fry variety, it takes time to prepare. So you shouldn't expect to get your meals quickly if the restaurant is packed.