All India Cafe
The conceit here is dishes from each of the regions of India — tandoori meats from the north and masala dosa from the south, salads and Bombay-style uttapam — filtered through the soft-focus lens of the All India kitchen and washed with sweet chutneys and herbs. All India is usually at its best when you bring the fewest preconceptions to the table, or when the food least resembles its regional roots. The restaurant‘s signature dish is probably the “frankie,” a Bombay street snack that Bombay Cafe brought to California and perfected — sort of a thick flour tortilla with an egg sizzled onto it, wrapped around a filling of sweet, tamarind-laced lamb, stewed chicken or fried cauliflower. And the masala dosa ain’t bad: Here, the lentil sambar, which is to south Indian pancakes what maple syrup is to American ones, is soothing and hearty rather than (as is more common) thin and ferociously spiced. 39 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena; (626) 440-0309. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch for two, food only, $10–$11; dinner for two, food only, $18–$30. Beer and wine. Validated parking. AE, Disc., MC, V.
The north Indian restaurant Chameli‘s mustard-green version of saag, a stew that seems to call for great khaki glops of creamed spinach in most northern Indian restaurants, is as vivid, as intensely flavored, as any Deep South dish of boiled collards — and, as in Alabama, the classic accompaniment to the greens is corn bread, in this case a flat, chewy disk of coarsely ground corn called makki roti, real Punjabi soul food. If you want to stay on this tangent, try the lobhia, black-eyed peas, which taste like what a gifted Dothan grandmother might serve on New Year’s Day if a prankster had taken the fatback out of her pot and dosed the peas with turmeric and cardamom instead. Bhindi, dry okra, is spectacular here, smoky from a dollop of charred tomatoes, tinted with ground pomegranate, firm as stir-fried asparagus and as pungently green, the vegetable‘s natural sliminess tamed into something of a sauce thickener. 8752 Valley Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 280-1947. Open Wed.–Mon. 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Dinner for two, food only, $16–$18. Beer and wine. Buffet lunch. Lot parking in rear. AE, Disc., MC, V.
The Indian state of Gujarat is as renowned for its vegetarian snacks as Toulouse is for cassoulet. Bhel are thin-shelled, crunchy, hollow things, cradling bits of potato, into which you spoon a spicy vegetable water the color of a pine forest; paw wada, soft biscuit deals that look not unlike White Castle burgers, are filled with a wonderful, intensely garlicky vegetable puree. Pettis, fried balls stuffed with a coconut-chile mixture, look like (but taste different from) kachori, fried balls stuffed with spiced peas that look like (but taste different from) samosas. Masala dosai, the famous south Indian crepe, is done very well here, huge and crispy, wrapped around the inevitable spiced potatoes and served with coconut chutney and a little container of thin vegetable curry; mesui masala, a variation, is folded over spicier potatoes spiked with tomatoes and coconut. Uttapam, great sourdough pancakes, can be had stuffed with a thick, sweet layer of sauteed onions, or with spiced potatoes; go for the onions. 18701 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 924-3310. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$10. No alcohol. Takeout. Lot parking in rear. MC, V.
There are certain things you can predict about a meal at Dasaprakash. Your table will become littered with little stainless-steel bowls of sambar, a thin, tart lentil gravy that seems to come as a condiment with most of the dishes on the menu, and you will probably order more kinds of pancakes — pessret, dosai, oothapam plain and with onions — than you thought existed outside an IHOP. The owner will try to get you to order the masala dosai, a Dasaprakash specialty that has been knocked off by half the Indian joints in Los Angeles, and you will order them too: thin, wafer-crisp crepes made from a batter of fermented rice and lentils, folded around a gently spiced curry of potatoes. After the fritters and pancakes, you should probably get uppuma, a dramatic mound of steamed semolina that is flavored with sweet onions but that is probably two-thirds butter by weight — a teacupful of the stuff serves about six. Bisi bele huli anna combines rice, lentils, a slug of chiles — and probably an entire stick of butter, to incredibly rich effect. 12217 Santa Monica Blvd., No. 201, West L.A.; (310) 820-9477. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner for two, food only, $16–$20. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Disc., MC, V.
Standard Sweets & Snacks
There may be nothing quite so soothing after a spicy meal as a great Indian rusmalai, freshly made cheese with the open, slightly spongy texture of really good fresh cottage cheese, simmered in thick milk and then chilled, sprinkled with crushed pistachio nuts, perhaps flavored with a bare hint of rose water. Dahi vada is something like a spiced Punjabi lentil cookie cosseted in cool, sour yogurt. The crisp samosas are stuffed with the inevitable potato. Channa, or curried whole chickpeas, come with a deep-fried puff of yogurt bread fresh from the fryer and almost the size of a basketball — before it deflates into something that tastes like Navajo fry bread. You‘ll find most of the usual south Indian snacks — the steamed rice cakes called idli, the lentil pancake uttapam — and a sensational version of the Ping-Pong-ball-size bread pani poori. But everybody around you will be eating the masala dosa, a burnished crepe rolled around mildly curried potatoes into something the size of a Louisville Slugger, served with a small bowl of vegetable curry. 18600 S. Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 860-6364. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $7–$9. No alcohol. Takeout. Street parking. Disc., MC, V (over $10).