The lassi, a chilled yogurt drink born in the Punjab region of India, has been dubbed the world's oldest smoothie. Though it originated as a savory beverage -- a salted yogurt-milk with a few spices such as cumin -- its sweet counterparts have gained more popularity here in the West, and the mango lassi is by far the most favored in Los Angeles. It's a delightful beverage: tangy, sweet, and very refreshing, and it's made from real yogurt, not some powdered concoction you might find at frozen yogurt joints.
Most Indian restaurants around town have the drink on their menu, but we wanted to share a list of the best spots to grab the chilled beverage on the go, as you would a typical smoothie. They may not be filled with spirulina or wheat grass (yummy!), but they are ripe with probiotic cultures, so drink up.
In addition to a pastry case full of sweet Indian treats and a full savory menu, at Indian Sweets & Spices, you can grab a pretty great mango lassi to-go. The lassi here is very floral -- we're not really sure how they do that, but we like it. At the Atwater Village location (the primary and largest of the many area shops), you can savor your beverage while browsing through beautiful statues of ornate gods and goddesses and huge bejeweled elephants in turquoise and orange. Along with these icons of the Hindu religion are many Indian groceries, so it's a great stop for basmati rice, curry powders and naan. Atwater Village: 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-345-0360. Canoga Park: 22011 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, 818-887-0868.
4. Samosa House:
The mango lassi at Samosa house is the most complex flavor-wise, with whole pieces of fennel seed in the mix. It is richer and deeper in color, a vibrant medium orange as opposed to a pale orange, and this reflects the full-bodied flavor of the drink. Because of this, it's not as light and tangy as others on this list, but it certainly is worth trying, especially if you like the licorice flavor of fennel. Samosa House also offers a full savory menu and Indian groceries, along with a large seating area and an altar to Ganesha, the elephantine Hindu god of success, which might be a good stopping point if you're looking for work these days. 11510 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-398-6766.
If you're a USC student who can't afford the $6 smoothies at the on-campus Jamba Juice, you're in luck. Three bucks buys you a made-from-scratch lassi at the 23rd Street Cafe just a few blocks from campus. Here you can find killer Indian-Mexican tacos, a great chicken tikka masala, and a wi-fi connection for Facebook, ahem, scholarly research while you drink. The lassi here, though plenty sweet, is the least sugared of them all and the most tangy. Though there are no Hindu chotchkies at this joint, it is adjoined to a convenient store where you can conveniently purchase beer for the weekend. 936 W. 23rd St., Los Angeles; 213-749-1593.
See also: 5 Best Dosas in Los Angeles
Saffron has three locations, the original at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Beverly Hills, and Downtown at 5th and Flower. The Indian cafe is great for people on the run, and if you're looking for a quick mango lassi, this is the place for it; they're all lined up in a small refrigerator, ready to go, a faster grab than a Diet Coke at McDonald's or an Ice Blended at Coffee Bean. These are very fresh, not too cloying, and a cheap treat at just $2.45. Check out more healthful, lighter Indian menu by chef Bhupender Singh, which includes tofu tikka masala and tofu daal. 505 S. Flower St., B Level #250, Los Angeles; 213-488-9754.
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It's pretty common knowledge that the valley has some of the best Indian food in Los Angeles, so it's fitting that family-owned Streets of India Café in Encino made number one on this list. Though there are no altars or statues of gods and goddesses, this place serves up a pretty sacred mango lassi -- it's just a slight notch above the rest, with an extra vibrant burst of mango fused with that signature tang. At lunch-hour the café gets packed, as it offers an all-you-can-eat buffet from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., which includes specialties from northern and southern India. 16260 Ventura Blvd, Encino; 818-325-2500..
Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer and a pastry cook at Lucques. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.