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Jul 1, 2007 08:19 PM

Delicious Home-style Punjabi Food

I've been craving home-cooked punjabi food for a while now and as I was too lazy to cook it myself and didn't want to drive all the way to my usual stand-by of Al-Watan I decided to try somewhere closer to home (I live right by USC). For some time now my Indian friends have been telling me about a place they call "23rd St cafe" although that's not the name on the front (I can't remember what the actual name is right now... d'oh); all I can say is that I'm glad I finally went.

After parking my car across the road I was a little concerned walking up to the place as most of the menu items listed in the window were for Mexican food (!) but I was somewhat re-assured walking in. The place was full of Indian students from USC eating what looked like pretty delicious unpretentious food served on iron thalis. Deciding to forego meat dishes my friends and I ordered the very reasonably priced vegetarian combo plates - $5 or so for one main dish served with rice, dhal, raita, and naan. My two friends VP and KG ordered the matter paneer (indian cottage cheese with peas) and the aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) respectively and I went for the chole (garnbanzo beans). KG and I also ordered plain unsweetened lassi.

After a short wait the lady behind the counter brought out out food, the lassis and also gave us some achaar (pickles) at no charge. The food was as I have said unpretentious, but it was clearly freshly made and more importantly was delicious to boot! The naan was unfortunately reheated and not freshly made but they don't have a tandoor in there so it was to be expected. The rice was plain but of a good quality and tasty even on its on. The raita tasted like it was made with homemade curds and had just the right amount of veggies (tomato and cucumber) and spices in it. The dhal was truly delicious and I would have been happy with having just that.

Of the three main dishes we ordered between us the matter paneer was my favourite (wish I'd ordered it) spicy and full of flavour with a generous amount of paneer. The aloo gobi was also tasty with fresh slightly crunchy cauliflower pieces contrasted with soft piueces of tender aloo - it was also unlike most aloo gobi I've had here in LA which comes with too much sauce and was more akin to the dry(er) version I am used to my mum making. The chole were good too, cooked till just al dente in a flavourful gravy - although I would have preferred a bit more heat in them.

The lassi also deserves a mention as again it was more authentic than most lassis I've had here in LA which tend to resemble a milkshake rather than the more watery version that Punjabis are used to. My room-mate and I (another Punjabi) both agreed that it also tasted as though it was made with home-made yoghurt.

I've been told by my friends that all of their Indian food (they also serve mexican dishes) is of a similarly high standard and I can't wait to go back and try their aloo parathas and gobi parathas as well as the samosas - all of which have been recommended to me.

The cafe is located on the south-east corner of 23rd St and Toberman St (just east of Hoover Blvd) near USC. The area is not apparently the most safe place to be especially in the evenings according to USC friends of mine who live there - but then again they still live there...

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  1. At first I thought you were talking about a place I noticed on the northwest corner of Vermont and a 20-something street called Manas, but I realize from your last paragraph that you're talking about somewhere else. Have you tried Manas, and if so, how did it compare?

    1. Sounds interesting...I'm gonna have to put that on my list. I just had Al Noor takeout this past weekend and really enjoyed it.

      1. Ah very interesting. I always though the place was a little mom and pop mexican cafe with indian food added on to appeal to the high density of indian students. It's on 23rd and Portland to be exact.

        I am also wondering about a comparison between it and manas on vermont. Both seem popular with the indian students. I guess I have a little experiment to try, but my knowledge of indian food is lacking.

        1. Thanks Trojandude (fight on!) for the more accurate address.

          After moving to LA Manas was the first venue I frequented in order to satisfy my Indian food cravings - mainly as it is less than a two minutes walk from my house. I actually went there a few times before I bought a car and became more mobile. Once I did have a car then Manas was definitely off the menu.

          The food there tends to be excessively oily and greasy. I've tried both the buffet and the a la carte menu and the same is true of both. It's OK if you're desperate for Indian food and not too fussy about what you get but then this is Chowhound and I'm assuming that's not the case here :-)

          The 23rd St cafe (still can't remember the name) is a beast of a totally different nature. There is no buffet, no food sitting under /on heaters etc. I am pretty sure that it's not cooked to order (would take too long) but it doesn't taste like typical bulk-cooked buffet food.

          I'm probably going to head there again for lunch today so I'll post the correct name and phone number etc. once I get back.

          5 Replies
          1. re: AmarV

            So I went to the 23rd St Cafe (that is it's name) for lunch today. Once again the food was great - I ordered the super chicken combo - rice, dhaal, chicken curry, and shane murgh (marinated roast chicken).

            The shane murgh was very tasty with a real hit of ginger and cumin and a little chilli. A bit dry maybe but still good. The dhaal was awesome once again - hot and spiced just right. The chicken curry was delicious too. Not overly spiced but with a good flavour and just enough heat (though I could have done with a bit more chilli - maybe next time I'll see if they can make it hotter). All of the food is simple but delicous - the kind of cooking you get in good home kitchens.

            I also tried the samosas and while they were better than most I've tried in LA they weren't amazing. The skin was nice and crispy (not chewy like a lot of places serve) and the filling was a flavourful mix of potatoes and peas with a good spice and chilli kick to it.

            Here are the details:
            23rd St Cafe
            936 W 23rd St
            (corner of 23rd and Portland)
            Business hours 7 a.m. - 9 p.m.
            213 749 1593

            1. re: AmarV

              thanks for posting the details...I'll definitely have to try it out now

              1. re: AmarV

                They are literally next door to where I live. The place is run by a Punjabi family that also runs the grocery store next door. The food does taste fresh and homemade, though frankly, like something made by a moderately competent home chef, not someone with excellent culinary skills. I've definitely had far superior home-cooked Punjabi food.

                I'm puzzled that you actually prefer al dente chholey. To me this is a pet peeve, a majority of LA Indian restaurants seems to undercook the garbanzo beans (chickpeas), instead of slow cooking them to the point when they are very soft but haven't disintegrated. I can't recall a single meal in India where I've ever had al dente chholey, whether at someone's home or in a dhaba/restaurant.

                1. re: anthead

                  I'd agree that the food isn't 'excellent' and my parents' kitchen delivers food that is tastier by a number of degrees... but in a city where in my experience it's hard to find authentic / traditional Indian food (by which I mean the food grew up with) there is a lot to be said for some place that does it simply and well. I'd rather have competent home-cooking than incompetent, over-reaching 'restaurant' food anyday.
                  As for the chholey it may just be a matter of personal taste but I can't stand it when the chickpeas have been cooked until they're mushy and lose their shape and texture. I'd rather have them slightly al dente although ideally they should be a little softer than that... when I'm cooking them at home I get them until they're just on the point and then get the best of both worlds by mashing some up in the pan and leaving the rest unmashed.

                  1. re: AmarV

                    I have a feeling that we may be referring to the same thing, and the difference is in very slight degree. If they can be mashed up by the back of your karchhi, they are good enough for me. However, most Indian restaurant chholey is undercooked and packs a bite.

                    By the way, have you tried Ambala Dhaba in Westwood (not the Artesia branch). I know it gets a lot of mixed reports on this board, but their food is the closest to the Punjabi food I cook and ate at the homes of friends growing up in Delhi. Their cook is from Amritsar, and learnt his chops at a dhaba there.