Why Indian food is better in shops
I was gnawing a samosa fraught with greatness, warm from the oven of India Sweets & Spices, when I realized that the Indian food with nerve, the Indian food that's really deep, the Indian food that permits me to commune with Shiva, is the stuff I get at Los Angeles's New India Sweets & Spices (on Fairfax just north of Pico), at Northdridge's India Sweets & Spices (on Parthenia), at Torrance's India Spiceland (on Crenshaw). Communicating my dietary proclivities to the service personnel can be daunting (not at NISS), but the rewards are remarkable. There's the quality to price ratio, the insouciant dose of spice fit for a raja, the variety of textures not found in such establishments as Anarkali, Chandni, Akbar, Bombay Cafe, All India Cafe and so on. The atmosphere of the food shops is all the better thanks to one's proximity to bags of oily toovar dal, cans of lemon pickles, spicy cashews sold by the pound, Bollywood posters and tabloids (the star of "Lagan" was left by his wife), great stacks of Indian DVDs and lots of Indian diners getting what they need, what their souls crave, what their palates long for. The owners and cooks at the shops have not cravenly submitted to the perception rampant among Indian entrepreneurs that food served to whitey must not exceed the spice level of a Big Mac. They are not cooking for whitey.
Best of the lot:
23906 Crenshaw Boulevard (north of Lomita)
New India Sweets & Spices
1245 South Fairfax Avenue (north of Pico)
Sweets & Spices
18110 Parthenia Street
Good, but service rude in a hectic shop:
India Sweets & Spices
Yet to try:
India Spices & Grocery
5994 West Pico Boulevard
there's another reason too:
Unlike most restaurant fare, what's served in the shops and chaat places are the foods that are cooked/eaten in homes. (And not to betray any great secret but most of the cooks in indian restaurants are not trained chefs)
I second your endorsement of the place on Crenshaw near Lomita. I went there on someone's recommendation here, and it's a trip. It's a tiny shop, packed to the rafters, run by this very quiet pushy/friendly guy who somehow makes you feel happy to end up buying twice as much stuff as you'd planned. The minute you walk into the store, he asks you if you want lunch, and you say yes, and he gives you a great big styrofoam take-out container of veggie food, pleasant and delicate and flavorful without being aggressively spicy, and you give him five bucks, and you dig right into it before you know quite what hit you.