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Saravana Bhavan

Pia Mileaf-Patel

$15 a person

Alert: Foreign Chains Sweeping the Streets of NYC

Here is one of my favorites:

            Nuanced dosas, filled with chicken salad, or melted cheese have their allure and are certainly well spoken for in NYC, but you won’t find that at my favorite, secret, Indian restaurant.

            Instead, you will find dishes of hot, steaming pooris, with chana dal and lemon on the side. Dosas, crisp and extending far off of the tray, sprinkled with ghee, a clarified butter. Lunch special thalis, with chutneys and dals and idlys (fried lentil donuts). Tons and tons of people. And the thickest mango lassi, which is so sweet, yet still tangy from the yogurt.

            In case you don't know, and in case you like smoothies, mango lassi is a mango smoothie-type drink (but so much better) made from mango puree and yogurt. Here's a story that I've heard 300 times and counting: When my dad was little, his family went to India to visit my grandpa's relatives. Meanwhile, my dad stumbled upon what looked like the addictive mango lassi in the fridge, but he and my Auntie Dawn, each downed a full glass of mango puree… it did not end well for them. That being said, he still likes mango lassi, so you know it must be good.

            I went to Saravana Bhavan, on the corner of 26th and Lex, for lunch on Sunday afternoon at about 3:30 pm and it was full of people to the point where there was about a 15 minute wait. There were businessmen eating thalis, trays of breads, curries and chutneys, and families of three or more generations all eating dosas together.

            Saravana Bhavan is a South Indian chain restaurant, which has locations all over the world. It’s vegetarian and kosher (finally a place where my vegetarian friends will be happy) and so, so good.

            The dosas are paper thin and crispy on the outside, and you can order them filled with a few, traditional things, such as spiced mashed potatoes, or onions. And on weekends, you can get chana burata, which is an enormous poori (fried dough filled with air) with chickpea dal on the side. It is also what my mom always orders—I don’t know if she’s ever had anything else there actually.

            Atmospherically, it is very much like a chain restaurant. Plastic tables, linoleum floor, yet it’s not at all uncomfortable. It has a warm vibe, and the food is perfect (although the lighting is not optimal for obnoxious food bloggers like me to take photos). I promise you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for real Indian food. I recommend ordering chana burata if it’s available, or a masala dosa with a mango lassi.