Curries, tandoori on the menu as 5th Element replaces a Chinese eatery in Delray Beach

5th Element Indian Bistro replaced Hunan Palace.

The Florida-based Indian restaurant chain offers a wide-ranging menu and a lunchtime buffet. Find it in a medical plaza near Delray iBeach Medical Center in a space formerly occupied by Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace.

By Alan J. Wax

The 5th Element Indian Bistro & Bar in Delray Beach isn’t easy to find.  Amid a collection of medical offices in a strip mall known as Palm Court Plaza on Linton Boulevard at Military Trail, this South Asian eatery, open since April, has but a plastic banner above its entry and a sandwich sign outside its door proclaiming its arrival.

Indian cuisine has rooted firmly in South Florida in recent years. Delray Beach, alone, now has three eateries serving the food of South Asia.  5th Element, almost adjacent to Delray Medical Center, is the sixth location of this Florida-grown chain. It’s been open since early 2023. Other Indian eateries in Delray are Victor’s Indian Palace and Persis Indian Grill.

5th Element’s first restaurant was opened in Jacksonville in 2007 by Sridhar Sannala, a native of India who came to the United States in 1999 to pursue a career in the restaurant industry. He worked at several Indian restaurants in the Jacksonville area before opening his own restaurant.

Interior of 5th Element, Delray Beach.

The concept, per the restaurant’s website, was inspired by Sannala’s desire to create a casual dining Indian restaurant that offered a wide variety of dishes from different regions of India. The restaurant’s name is a reference to the five elements of Indian philosophy: earth, air, fire, water, and ether.

After Sannala’s success in Jacksonvile, he opened several more locations in Florida over the next few years, including stores in Pompano Beach, Sanford, Daytona Beach, Palm Coast, and now suburban Delray Beach. 

The restaurants reportedly are all owned and operated by Sannala and his family. According to Florida corporate records, the Delray eatery is registered to Vijaya Kumar Reddy Indhipuru, who has had a long relationship with the chain.

The Delray site, whose entry is catty-cornered on a plaza corridor, occupies a storefront once home to Mr. Chen’s Hunan Palace (which shut down in January after just two years of new ownership).

Signage aside, little in terms of decor has changed since the days of Hunan Palace. There are the same tables, chairs, booths, and a mural. There’s even a former waiter held over from the restaurant’s previous incarnation. On the walls, large screen TVs now blare Indian-style rock videos, and pictures of Indian scenes hang among them surrounded by frames of colorful lights.

Aside from the Bollywood music, it was quiet here during my visits, day and night, with just a few of the dozens of tables occupied by diners.

The lack of visibility may have contributed to the small number of diners. Nor has there been much in the way of marketing that I’ve noticed.

Masala dosa.

Plate filled at the buffet.

On our first visit, a Saturday evening, only three tables, counting ours, were occupied. Desi families filled the other two.

I was surprised when our server asked me for a heat level for my order of mixed tandoori ($23) — something that had never before happened. He told me I’d made a good choice, but that my order would take longer than the others. The heat level, five, was fine, but the dish left no lasting impression.

Chicken korma ($17), probably among the least spicy of dishes on an Indian menu as it is generally a protein in a cream sauce with coconut and cashews, arrived with an orange hue (perhaps from saffron or turmeric). The chicken was tender and the sauce, while creamy, offered up a bit of heat in the finish, something my spice-averse spouse did not appreciate.

Masala dosa ($11), a crepe made with fermented rice and lentil flour, looked beautiful overflowing the plate. Alas, the potato-onion filling was barely warm.

The buffet.

On another occasion, I partook of the buffet ($16 per person on weekdays), which provides a good opportunity to sample many of the dishes that one might order at a sit-down meal. 

On this day, there were about a dozen hot entrees available, including tandoori chicken; naan; chicken 65, a spicy chicken dish invented in 1965; Charminar chicken biryani— named for a 16th Century Hyderabad landmark; light, crunchy, crispy onion pakora (fritters) gave up a hint of anise from carom seeds; chicken tikka masala; tender goat curry; paneer (cheese) tikka masala, chana (chick-pea) masala, aloo gobi (a vegetarian dish made with potatoes, cauliflower, and Indian spices), a few chutneys, and a handful of dessert items.  

But there are tradeoffs to buffet dining.

Tandoori mixed grill.

Serving yourself from a chafing dish doesn’t give you the chance to specify heat levels that are possible by ordering off the menu. 

Moreover, a few of the buffet offerings, notably the chicken dishes, were dried out from either overcooking or from sitting too long on the buffet.  Pieces of naan, the Indian bread, usually puffy, slightly charred, and warm, were as flat as tortillas and barely warm.

On the other hand, rice dishes, particularly the biryani, and the vegetable masalas, were quite flavorful.

Mango custard, mango ice cream, and kheer.

And desserts, among them, kheer (a rice pudding with almonds); mango custard; and mango soft-service ice cream, provided an uplifting finale to the buffet.

5th Element’s location, convenient for staff and visitors to Delray Medical Center, offers diners a taste of the Indian subcontinent in an area where such cuisine is not easily found. Ordering with care may provide a culinary adventure, but not without some pitfalls.

5th Element Indian Bistro & Bar

5130 Linton Blvd., Unit E1, Delray Beach 33484


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