There are two very cool things about eating at the Indian and Pakistani restaurants along West Devon Avenue. One, they give you a lot of food for the money. And two, you can shop at a next-door market to make the same meal (well, almost) at home.
Sure, a lot of people think that the best thing about ethnic restaurants is that you get to eat inexpensive food that you don't have to fix at home. But, once a body gets into it, cooking cuisines from faraway lands is really quite simple and always very rewarding. It especially scores when you're cooking for a date.
And watching coin isn't something only Indian restaurants are good for. The many markets along Devon sell groceries—both the kind you'd normally shop for as well as more exotic ingredients—often for less than the larger supermarkets.
Because many Indian and Pakistani people are non-meat eaters, these markets offer an array of fruits and vegetables that you just don't see at the Jewel or Dominick's. I saw a pile of small, round eggplants the other day at Super Fruit Market (2405 W. Devon Ave., 773-338-7120) that were so glistening and firm, it looked as if the greengrocer had upended a bucket of amethysts.
And, never never never buy rice by the small Uncle Ben box. Ten- and 20-pound bags of fantastic, aged basmati go for nearly a dollar a pound. It doesn't spoil; it doesn't rot.
Tons of the stuff at these markets will make no sense to a first-timer Indian cook ('jaggery' sounds kind of naughty until you find out it's just a sort of sugar). But once you get into it—and if you pick up spatula and spoon, you will—the heady, spicy, nutrient-rich cooking of India and Pakistan will allure you into learning all about it.
A very safe, non-threatening start is the super-clean, well-organized and enormous Patel Brothers Market (2610 W. Devon, 773-262-7777). If you get an esoteric recipe that calls for valor beans or sev (a snack), you'll find it there. I have never seen a broader selection of Indian 'pickles' (vegetable 'salsas' that often mix in citrus and chiles) than Patel Brothers.
Super Fruit Market is good for goat and lamb (again, at prices that seem ludicrously low compared to the normal supermarket or butcher shop). So is Noor Meat Market (2505 W. Devon, 773-274-6667), which also sells the most extensive range of Indian cookware you're likely to see along Devon. And, once again, prices are below reasonable: for example, a large, heavy, brushed aluminum frying pan goes for $20.
Other markets that I have tried and liked are Madni Mart (2440 W. Devon, 773-761-4626) and Mehrab Meat & Grocery (2445 W. Devon, 773-764-3737), both at the eastern end of the avenue.
Fanciers of Indian and Pakistani food have their favorite restaurants along Devon. Here are some of mine.
I love meat and eat a lot of it. But the all-vegetarian food at Udupi Palace (2543 W. Devon, 773-338-2152) is so filling and layered with flavor, it just takes meat out of the gustatory picture. Sure, a lot of the eats are fried. Some are head-popping spicy. But, judiciously ordered, a meal here is a treat for the tongue. And portions are enormous.
Another all-veg place is Annapurna Vegetarian Fast Food (2608 W. Devon, no telephone). Well, perhaps 'fast' compared to traffic in Bombay, but terrifically delicious nonetheless. For $5, order the thali, so much food that it would help to go on a Gandhi-like fast a day ahead: two cup-sized vegetable dishes (such as spiced cauliflower and potoates or corn cakes), a dal (a pulse or lentil soup with, say, chunks of eggplant), rice pulao, two chapatti, a pappadam, raita (fantastic yogurt-based, sweet-tart sauce or dip), a couple of homemade pickles and a dessert. Whew.
Another Deal City are Indian buffets, either for lunch or dinner (but especially at lunch). Sher-a-Punjab (2510 W. Devon, 773-973-4000)—one of many restaurants along Devon that offers a lunch buffet, here for $7 —is rather plainspoken from the outside, but clean and tidy inside. And, there it is, every noon hour: a dozen dishes or more, all one can devour, with hot naan (what a tortilla wishes it tasted like) brought to you as you wish.
For fancier dinners out, Tiffin (2536 W. Devon, 773-338-2143) rules the strip. The walls are paneled in dark wood; the tables, clothed in white. You can get a drink.