Expect the unexpected

Haveli Restaurant & Banquet

Good for: traditional Punjabi and Pakistani food
Notable dishes: goat karahi, daal fry, onion kulcha

Haveli Restaurant & Banquet

1910 Canterbury Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95815

Phonenumber(916) 333-1186

When India and Pakistan divided, the Punjab region ended up straddling the border. Culinary traditions remain similar on both sides, though, despite the political separation.

Sacramento has plenty of Indian restaurants—many replete with northern Punjabi dishes—but Pakistani places are less common. Haveli Restaurant in Woodlake, however, represents both countries.

Open since late May in the same complex as the Canterbury Village assisted living facility, the renovated conference center often seems empty unless the banquet rooms are in use. At times, you get the feeling you’re a bit out of place. Several mannequins in Pakistani salwars heighten the experience.

As for the food, we had two very different experiences. The confusing menu situation may be why: A video of a menu on its Facebook page lists dishes no longer available. We ordered to-go using that guide, but ended up getting unexpected substitutions with no explanation.

An order of vegetable samosas ($3.99) arrived as anticipated, with two flaky triangles filled with potatoes and peas. Flatter than most versions, they had a smooth filling well-dosed with chilies.

The pickled goat curry we ordered came as goat karahi ($12.99), delicious but expensive for a pint container with no rice or bread, as is the standard here.

Chicken cholay ($9.99) had lots of serrano chiles, fragrant cilantro and a rich, gingery sauce. Many dishes here come with bones in the classic manner, and the spice level can be quite high unless you request it milder. In this case, the bones shattered, leaving dangerously sharp shards to pick out.

We tried to order plain rice, but instead got chicken sindhi biryani ($10.99). It showed a Pakistani influence, made with semi-dried unpitted apricots. Intriguingly, it consisted of very long-grain white rice and a floral undertone, with chunks of bone-in chicken but few vegetables.

An in-person visit revealed a voluminous, somewhat confusing menu. One side lists many specials like brain masala ($11.99) and chef’s choice tawa fish ($12.99), only available Friday through Sunday. The other includes more familiar &#;agrave; la carte dishes and oddments, like Greek salad, and “Western Haveli” choices, such as veggie burgers with fries.

The Greek salad ($7.99) tasted quite fresh, and served as the one nonspicy vegetable dish we found, and a nice counterpoint to most of the menu. True to Punjab cuisine, many items contain lots of cream, ghee and meat. The dishes come from a culture of manual labor that required extra calories, so richness is the norm.

Both chicken tikka masala and butter chicken ($9.99 each) comprised somewhat scarce boneless chicken pieces in creamy sauces. The tikka masala seemed more like Kathmandu Kitchen’s chicken makhani, with a tomato-tinged sauce, while the butter chicken felt less unctuous than other versions.

Breads here rank high, if pricey. Plain naan ($1.50 per round) and garlic naan ($2.50 per round) arrived steaming after a bake in a tandoor oven. The onion kulcha ($2.99 per round) revealed neatly diced onion through a latticework of lightly browned dough.

The few vegetarian entrees include aloo palak ($8.99), a stew of zingy spinach with a couple of potatoes, and a rotating dal fry ($8.99), made one day with yellow peas and tangles of caramelized onion in a sea of spiced butter.

The staff at Haveli, while friendly, seem less prepared for Western customers. The food isn’t described clearly enough to avoid surprises, and several phone exchanges we had led to confusion. If you persevere, though, Haveli offers a unique opportunity to try different versions of Indian restaurant favorites and less-commonly offered dishes.