Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Best places to eat Indian Vegetarian Food in Bay Area

When we were relocating from India, food was at the top of my long list of concerns. Only after landing in the bay area did I discover how unfounded my fears were. Because of the high influx of immigrants, this area has a large number of thriving ethnic restaurants and there's no dearth of Indian restaurants either. Being a vegetarian, we needed a place which had a lot of vegetarian options. Soon enough we were able to locate many such restaurants nearby, now it has come to the point where in some of these places we don't even bother with the menu. We just order our favorites as soon as we are seated. If you happen to be in the bay area, you may want to visit one of these budget friendly eateries for a taste of India.

Chaat House
Some background here - Chaat in Hindi is usually a melange of various things with the final version being pleasantly spicy, sweet and tangy. There're various versions - often featuring one particular dish as the main item with a lot of garnishing and condiments often customised to suit the taste buds of the person eating it. It can have potato pattis, chick peas, sprouted beans, puffed rice as the main ingredient and these main ingredients are then mixed with a number of sweet, sour chutneys, yogurt, red chilli powder, green chillies, chopped onions etc. Often the quantity and variety of ingredients results in each cook have its signature dish when it comes to chaat.
The name Chaat House suggests that they are big on these Chaat varieties but actually they have a decent offering of Chaat as well as other usual Indian fare like Chapati, Daal, Curries etc. Since the owner is from North India ( State of Punjab), the menu leans heavily towards north Indian dishes. Ironically, Chaat is not very recommendable at Chaat House. I find it a little too raw ( contains more raw veggies, lacks usual condiments), but then we go there for a full meal and not snacks.
There are quite a few restaurants on El Camino Real with this name. We love the one on the intersection of N. Mary and El Camino Real. They are not great with the fancy stuff, but we can trust them to supply us with home like food on the super busy days. BEB loves their "Makki ki Roti, Sarson Ka Saag" ( Bread of corn flour with Entree of Mustard Leaves combo with a choice of Chai or Chaas for dink), While I order anything from Daal (Lentil soup) and Chapati ( Wheat flour Indian bread) to Rajma (curry of beans) and rice. For the first timers I recommend trying something from their combo meals. It would give you a meal with nicely matched side dish and entree and will be easy on your pocketbook too. We spend in the neighborhood of 25$ for a dinner for two here.

Background - Udupi is a place in Southern India which is famous for its preparation of Idli. With time, the south Indian restaurants sprang up in the rest of India and were commonly referred to as Udupi restaurants. In India these are lean mean working machines, serving inexpensive south Indian dishes in a clean, hygenic and efficient environment. In India, these places are often frequented by employees of nearby establishments during their lunch hours.

Udupi Palace in Sunnyvale ( On El Camino Real near Wolfe) is a restaurant born from that tradition. It has all the usual fare offered by traditional Udupi restaurants like Idlis, Vadas and a variety of Dosas. Along with it they also offer all the regular North Indian options like Paav Bhaaji, Chhole Bhature etc. But if you do go to Udupi, I would recommend ordering traditional South Indian fare, its their area of expertise, its delicious, its healthy ( well, for the most part), so why not? If you are not watching calories, try their Rava Masala Dosa, its the best I've ever had. If I'm going to Udupi, I'm going to have Rava Masala Dosa. Period.
One thing thats free, and that you must try while at Udupi is their after dinner mouth freshener, they prepare it themselves from coconut and its amazing. I usually pickup a handful everytime I'm leaving. I would also recommend grabbing a Paan(Betelnut leaf with a garnishing of rose petal jam among other things) on your way out. It is not complementary though ($1.5 apiece), but it will be a nice way to finish your dinner.
On a typical visit we usually spend between $20-$25 for a dinner for two ( including tips and taxes).

Passage to India
I always thought of it as an Indian bakery until I actually went there to pick-up a cake. They have a cozy little dining room tucked in the corner of their shop and they do have a mouth-watering menu for lunch and dinner buffet. This is the place to be if Chaat is your piece de resistance - They serve really good chaats, and their tamarind chutney and coriander chutney is quite close to authentic. Although there are a bunch of other things in the buffet like burger, pizza, noodles, My recommendation would be to stick with Indian cuisine while you're there and you'll have plenty of them to try. If you're a vegetarian Indian like me you must be having a hard time finding eggless baked goods. If thats the case, you'll love Passage to India for their eggless pastries and cakes (although they are not part of the regular buffet).
The buffet here costs $10 in the evenings so we end up spending about $22 for the two of us here.

Low cost is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Rajjot. This is not a place to take your girlfriend on your first romantic date but if you're hungry and looking for cheap and good Indian food, Rajjot is the place to go. Their paranthas(kind of tortillas stuffed with different vegetables) are very good and I have also heard good things about their Puranpoli (again like tortillas but with a sweet stuffing of lentils). Like its peers it is also very conveniently located on El Camino Real and Wolfe. There are a lot of Indian families in the bay area which rely on Rajjot for their weekly supply of Chapatis (Indian meal staple). They make nice, big, well roasted Chapatis that will keep well for a week in the fridge. I'm not sure how much we spend on a typical visit but it has to be in the neighborhood of $15. Don't expect very good service here though, they even mix up the orders sometimes. So be sure to double check if you've ordered a takeout.

Milan Sweets
Located in Milpitas this is a vegetarian restaurant + sweets shop. The owners are from Gujarat. I think thats the reason that even the typically spicy dishes have a hint of sweet in them here. Its choice of sizzlers is hugely popular and after sampling two of them, I can see why. Those hot off the griddle dishes have found a striking balance between non-Indian foods like pasta, noodles and Indian delicacies like bhajia, kebabs and various sauces. The ultimate result is yummy. The small Kachories (Flour roundels filled with spicy lentil stuffing) is another thing that you must sample while you're there. People also love their Paneer Tikka ( Grilled Indian cheese with vegetables). While some of its snacks taste really good and are popular, it is more than what could be said of their curries and other dishes. We have ordered things like Thali (supposedly complete Indian meal, with Chapati, Dal, rice and curries) once and a few other dishes on other occasions and were disappointed with them. In my opinion, one should stick to the popular dishes while ordering at Milan. It a self service place, you have to place your order at the counter and pay up-front and they will call out your name when your order is ready. Our average bill runs up to $25 here.


kanwar jis said...

You want to buy a fresh sweets and Indian sweets so please come to kanwarjis Sweets shop. Kanwarjis is a best sweets shop in Delhi/NCR.

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