Possibly the most captivating item available during lunch at Taste of India Suvai on S. State doesn’t cost extra–but you might have to flag down the lone fast-moving server to request it. Or maybe you look important and you’ll be offered a dosa without asking. When it arrives fresh in minutes from the kitchen in back, that dosa will be a simultaneously crispy and chewy thin crepe, wrapped around a dollop of hearty potato and onion stew. Wait until you taste it with the plum-jammy tamarind chutney, thick with dates and spicy sweet.

Ann Arbor’s newest campus-area Indian restaurant has a large buffet at lunchtime, as do its trio of competitors east of Fourth Avenue. But Taste of India (they usually don’t bother with “Suvai”–it’s just a nod to the owners’ original place in Livonia) also has a comfy atmosphere, with cushioned booths and beige-trimmed walls painted in sophisticated peacock blue and serene sage green. A large mural illustrating a traditional spice market fills the center room with smiling faces. Statues of elephants with trunks raised signal good fortune as you come and go.

You’ll feel pretty fortunate when you get your first look at the salad and condiments buffet cold table, featuring fresh green and fruit salads, basmati rice pudding, yogurt raita, and assorted chutneys–mint, tomato, creamy coconut, tamarind–all house-made, according to the host, and all good. Some of my favorite dishes didn’t need any saucing up, like channa masala (spiced chickpeas) and kadai panneer (cheese with chunks of onion and flavorful green pepper). I adored the spicy tandoor red “Chicken 65” and its vegetarian parallel, “Gobi 65,” which is similarly red-hot fried cauliflower. Supposedly named for having sixty-five spices, both variations will warm the coming cool days.

All buffet items (which highlight northern and southern Indian cuisine, along with Indo-Chinese) are clearly labeled with English descriptions. Meat and vegetable dishes are divided out on two separate tables. Similarly, the large carryout and huge dinner menus both divide main dishes under headings of “Vegetarian” and “Non-Vegetarian.” (Don’t look for the spicy 65s in these columns, though, because they’re both listed as appetizers.)

The buffet can get hyperactive, with an occasional grape or carrot falling into the communal condiments and a long line to cash out stretching up the middle aisle a few minutes before one o’clock some afternoons. (You’d think the 10 percent student discount comes with a free lottery ticket.) But if you like the buffet scene, Taste of India’s is a good deal for a good lot of food.

With no alcohol available and a hovering waitstaff, dinner at Taste of India hasn’t earned the destination status of the lunch buffet. Prices are reasonable for entrees, but more than one person told me they preferred certain dishes at Shalimar, or the Main Street restaurant’s more elegant presentations.

Though dinner here seems almost an afterthought, it has benefits. Lamb and fish entrees that don’t show up on the buffet can be ordered at night. The dosas also get supersized at dinner, both physically and in the variety offered. Though you pay extra for them now, they’re still delicious.

Subtleties of biryani and tandoor dishes emerge when they don’t have to compete with strongly spiced neighbors from the buffet. Dinner is also the time to explore Indian desserts that taste better and more complex than their descriptions indicate. Honey-buttered Carrot Halwa and Kesari “cream of wheat cooked in sugar syrup” were both lip-smacking good.

Taste of India Suvai

217 S. State St. 327-6500

Lunch buffet, $7.95, dinner appetizers, $2.50-$7.95, entrees, $5.95-$13.95.

Wheelchair friendly