Outsiders don’t typically recognize Polk County for its diversity, but we at Polk Eats are reflecting on the diversity of restaurants we have to choose from. One example – we had lunch at Cafe Roti in Lakeland recently and it was a delightful experience. Cafe Roti opened in Lakeland in 2003 and, as far as we can tell, it is the only restaurant in Polk County currently serving authentic Indian or Pakistani cuisine. (I’ve found a variety of opinions about the differences between Indian and Pakistani cuisine, since Pakistan and India were part of the same country until 1947. One thing most seem to agree on is that Indian cuisine is more vegetarian oriented, whereas Pakistani cuisine tends to use more meat.)
The restaurant is housed in the former site of a medical practice near Lakeland Regional Health. The interior is beautifully decorated with warm colors and lovely paintings. We were the first diners to arrive and had the restaurant to ourselves for a good part of our meal. We were warmly welcomed and after we were seated our hostess turned on some lovely music that was not too loud and was somewhat meditative in nature.
Cafe Roti’s dinner menu includes a wide range of appetizers, salads, and entrees for meat-lovers and vegetarians. Their lunch menu is smaller but was still plenty to satisfy this picky eater. We both started with mango lassi to drink, something I had never had before, a yogurt-based beverage that was sweet and delicious. Then we had an appetizer sampler that included 2 samosas (pastries stuffed with potatoes, peas, and spices), chicken tikka (bits of chicken marinaded in yogurt and spices and cooked on skewers), and pakora (these can be made from a variety of items, ours tasted like chicken), and came with 3 different chutneys (my favorite was the tamarind). A wonderful start to our meal.
For our main course, we each ordered chicken – my wife with vindaloo sauce and me with butter sauce. The various sauces offered are described on the menu – vindaloo sauce is vinegar-based with spices, butter sauce is a creamy tomato-based sauce with spices. Sauces are offered mild, moderate, or hot, and we both chose mild. The chicken was served with a good-sized plate of basmati rice. We also ordered a side of garlic naan that came with 4 pieces. The food was all outstanding and beautifully presented. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, fear not, because neither am I, and everything we ordered was delicious and only mildly spicy as promised. My wife felt her chicken was slightly overdone but mine was perfectly tender. Friendly service throughout the meal added to the experience.
With tip our total came to about $44, very reasonable considering the quality of the food and the fact that we had the appetizer and the lassis. It was a generous amount of food, we brought home leftovers to enjoy the next day. Cafe Roti is currently located on Parkview Place, near South Florida Avenue and across the street from Lakeland Regional Health, north of downtown Lakeland. It appears the owner plans to relocate the restaurant closer to downtown Lakeland in the near future, but wherever they are located we hope you will visit this gem of international cuisine in Lakeland.
If we have inspired you to visit Cafe Roti, or if you have already been and want to share your experience, please do so via the comments section below. And if you have Polk County restaurant tips, we would love to hear from you via our Contact Us page. Thanks for stopping by and happy eating!