Most vegans in Charlotte have heard of Woodlands Pure Vegetarian Indian Cuisine. Google vegan restaurants in Charlotte and Woodlands will pop up near the top of the list. For many vegans, it’s the only Indian restaurant they have tried (a shame because most Indian restaurants in Charlotte, even if they serve meat, still have a pretty impressive array of vegetarian and vegan dishes).
Here’s what you need to know:
- Everything on the 111-item menu is vegetarian.
- A great many items are also vegan. I’d guess somewhere around 70%.
- How do you know which items are vegan? While items on the menu aren’t explicitly marked “vegan,” the menu does do a good job describing each dish. If an item has cheese (oddly one dosa is made with American cheese), paneer, butter, cream, yogurt, or honey it is mentioned in the description. And don’t hesitate to ask your server. A large portion of Woodland’s clientele is vegan.
- NOTE: Please use some common sense when ordering! Many Indian dishes, if cooked in vegetable oil or a vegetable ghee such as Dalda, are naturally vegan. Chana Masala is a good example. Many other dishes can easily be made vegan by leaving out the cream which is sometimes added as a finishing touch. But please don’t order something like cheese cooked in yogurt sauce (paneer makhani) and expect the kitchen to turn it into a vegan meal for you! Time after time vegans tell me “you can’t get vegan food in an Indian restaurant.” When I ask why they say this, it’s always because they tried to order a dairy-based dish, where dairy is the star and not a supporting player.
- Woodlands even has a small all-organic menu, including soups, appetizers, curries, breads, and desserts.
- No weekday lunch buffet! Lunch buffet is only on Saturdays and Sundays.
- They do have a small discounted lunch menu, though.
- Most items are very gently spiced. “Veg Vindaloo – Our Spiciest Curry” was actually not very spicy at all. Indo-Chinese dishes I’ve requested to be made spicy also turned out to be pretty mild.
- While the menu claims to be “South/North/and Indo-Chinese,” Woodlands is basically a South Indian restaurant, and that is the area in which Woodlands excels. Since most Indian restaurants (in Charlotte at least) feature North Indian/Punjabi-style food, you can find many South Indian items here you usually can’t find in other Indian restaurants. In other words, it’s a great place to get your dosa on! They have 15 varieties of dosas, most vegan unless it specifies cheese. My recommendation is to order a dosa with some soup. Or, try idly (rice and lentil patties served with sambhar - a spicy tomato soup – and chutney) or vadas (fried lentil “donuts”, also served with soup and chutney). It’s one of the few Charlotte restaurants where I’ve seen utthapams (rice and lentil pancakes with toppings). And pani puris are fun to try if you’ve never had them – delicate little rice puffs, filled with a spoonful of potato and a spicy water that contains tamarind and mint. You put the whole thing in your mouth, close your lips, and bite down. Really it’s almost impossible to eat these without laughing!
- Indo-Chinese Selections – Look for Indo-Chinese selections under “House Specialties.” Indo-Chinese food can also be hard to find in Charlotte. The Mushroom Szechwan Noodles are very good, if not quite spicy enough for my taste.
- North Indian Food (mostly found under “Curries”) – This is where Woodlands seriously stumbles. I would love to be able to 100% support Woodlands since it’s all vegetarian, but truth is I’ve had better Chana Masala, Palak (spinach), Malai Kofta, and Dal Makhani – well, almost everywhere. Maharani, Situl, Saffron – you name it.
Service is another area where Woodlands stumbles … and FALLS and FAILS! It’s particularly noticeable since most Indian restaurants provide over-the-top service. The waiters at Maharani who fill your water glass every time you take a sip, the almost courtly manners of the manager at Sangam, the owner of Crown of India in Michigan that took me back to the kitchen to show me how naan was made … Service at Woodlands has always seemed rushed and impersonal, but I can cope with that. But now Woodlands seems to have a new manageress that is taking the service all the way down to actively awful.
Examples from my last visit to Woodlands:
- I made a reservation in advance for my VegCharlotte meetup group, both to reserve the table and so that if anyone in the group arrived ahead of me, they could go ahead and be seated. When I told the manageress I had a reservation, she actually laughed at me. Sometimes I can be a little overly sensitive, but my partner was shocked by that, too.
- She then became quite agitated about taking our order even though we were waiting for the rest of our group to arrive (about 12 people total). We kept telling her we wanted to wait until everyone in our party arrived. There were plenty of vacant tables and it was only 7:00 pm – nowhere near closing.
- Perhaps because I arrived with a Punjabi man, when I ordered an Indo-Chinese dish - Mushroom Szechwan Noodles - she made a little sneering comment about “why wasn’t I ordering Indian food in an Indian restaurant?” (WHY? Because I wanted to try something new! Because the chana masala I cook at home would totally blow Woodland’s chana masala away! And, what is wrong with ordering something they have on the menu? Especially something they have under “House Specialties“?)
- Wrong dishes were brought to the table and then we were never checked on again to get the issue straightened out. I felt particularly bad for one of our regulars, who kept going on and on about Chana Palak (spinach with chickpeas) and how it was his absolute favorite Indian dish. They NEVER brought a plate (of anything!) out to him. After 10 minutes of waiting (all the servers were apparently hiding in the kitchen) he finally ate a plate of something set before an empty seat. (And, no, Clint Eastwood was not one of our waiters.) Unacceptable.
- My water glass sat empty. It was never refilled once. Yes. In an Indian restaurant. Up until that moment, I thought there were only 3 sure things in life – death, taxes, and waiters always topping off your water glass in Indian restaurants.
- Only one side of our long table was asked if we wanted coffee, chai, or dessert.
- We asked for individual checks and received one large group check.
- When I tried to use my Restaurant.com certificate, the manageress refused to take it. Her reasoning: “You can only use one certificate per table.” Me: “Did anyone else at the table use any kind of certificate or coupon?” Her: “No, but it has to be used for the ENTIRE TABLE.” Me: “So you’d give us a $120 discount but not a $10 discount?” Her: “Yes.” I then called in Amrik to reason with her, and she graciously accepted the exact same certificate from Amrik!
So … Here are my recommendations:
- Woodlands is a great place for South Indian food and, to a lesser extent, Indo-Chinese food.
- It’s great if you are a new vegetarian/vegan or new to Indian cuisine. It really gives you an idea of the range of vegan options available. Plus, newbies to Indian food would probably appreciate the extremely mild level of spice.
- I don’t recommend Woodlands if you want North Indian food. I would recommend – well, almost anywhere else. Maharani, Situl, Saffron, Blue Taj … gah, even Bombay Grill.
- Since the service is so seriously sub-par (to put it mildly), I also don’t recommend for large groups (over 6 people). Maybe not for more than 4 people.
One location in Charlotte: 7128 Albemarle Road, 11:30 – 10:00 PM