Saffron, an Indian and Pakistani restaurant featuring authentic cuisine, opened in the midst of the pandemic in July 2020. But today the restaurant draws in customers from a variety of backgrounds, says Lamisa Ali, one of the family owners.
Customers will especially enjoy the restaurant menu if they are drawn to the foods from the northern part of India, which are the main options at Saffron, she said.
“We typically serve North Indian food, but it varies and this is just our take on the food my mom has made my whole life,” Ali said.
While they don’t have any specific family recipes, Ali said the meals are their representation of food from India and Pakistan.
“The food has just always had those flavors,” she said. “Often we get people who have tried Indian food, and then once in a while we get first-timers who then become our regulars.”
Ali says a good dish for the first-timer to Saffron is the Butter Chicken or Chicken Tikka Masala and the various naan options, which is a type of flatbread.
For vegetarians she recommends Palak Paneer (a curry dish) and the naans, and for vegans the Tarka Daal or Vegan Veggie Karahi.
As for the most popular items on the menu, Ali says those would be the Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala, veggie samosas (similar to a pastry) and the naan.
“We decided to focus on the food in the north of India because we know this region,” Ali said. “We grew up on this type of food.”
Since the restaurant serves both Indian and Pakistani cuisine, it is important to know the differences when looking at the menu, too.
Ali explained that “Indian and Pakistani food are very similar, but everyone has their own take on how some things are cooked and so it can vary from person to person, but the foundation is the same.”
The Ali family is from Pakistan. They originally began with home catering, but people would ask them about opening a restaurant. They ultimately decided to open a restaurant in Waco in the former Chinese Kitchen Buffet building, and before that housed Mazzio’s Pizza.
The food is also freshly picked and 100% Halal (“permissible” in Arabic), according to the restaurant website. The restaurant has a diverse and wide-ranging menu.
The naans especially stand out with a variety of options, from plain to garlic to “bullet” (minced chilies and a sesame seed topping) and even “nuclear” (a three-chili blend).
Saffron does have some competition up the street, but Ali adds, “Waco could use a little bit of a diverse taste palette.”
She said it was a dream of her father, Jawed Ali, to have a restaurant.
This is the family’s first restaurant venture and they love it, she said.
Family involvement runs deep in the business with Lamisa, her father, mother, brother, sister and uncle.
“Working with family is not always unicorns and rainbows,” she said. “I’m sure for anyone that works in a family business they know how hard it can be to communicate or express your thoughts and feelings.
“But at the end of the day I can’t imagine working with anyone other than my family. They understand your feelings you know your weaknesses and strengths. They’re not strangers who are competing for a better spot or a promotion or you know being competitive; instead it is family that’s working together in making sure that the restaurant is successful.
“What I love about it is that I’m not fighting for a position or anything. I’m fighting along with my family to help grow this business.”
Lamisa Ali’s sister, Linta, agreed.
“I’ve seen my dad create many businesses and helped him, but with this restaurant it’s the first that I’ve been a part of as a whole,” she said. “From day-to-day business to behind-the-scenes of creating dishes, to interacting with customers. We are all invested in this as if it’s our very own.”
The restaurant’s name, Saffron, came easily, Lamisa Ali said.
“It was something that was easy for people to pronounce and it was just something that sounded right,” she said.
One thing about a restaurant like Saffron is customers often want to understand the culture when they sit down to enjoy the cuisine, she said. Saffron hopes for its flavors and dishes to also convey the mood onto the customer.
“It’s a little bit of what my mom and dad learned when they saw their moms cooking,” Ali said. “Also, a little inspiration from other people like on YouTube or Indian/Pakistani food channels and a little bit of their trial and error.
“I think with food you don’t need to know a certain language. It’s just one of those things that bring anyone and everyone together. We have many customers who have traveled to India saying that this reminded them of their trip or time there.
“Food for many cultures has been a form of expression. You can express a lot of your emotions through your cooking and I’m hoping that even if we don’t share the same culture, at least the food we provide brings you comfort and a feeling of love and warmth.”
Ali wants customers to remember one main thing when trying out a new dish from India, Pakistan or elsewhere from around the world: “Don’t be afraid of the different tastes or the look of a dish. Our flavors and spices on our dishes are meant to be that way. Indian/Pakistani food has spices and flavors that complement each other.” ￼
416 N. Valley Mills Drive
Sun, Tue-Thu, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Fri- Sat, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.