South Bay Sichuan peppercorn and South Indian - here I come!
I'm tired of wine country cuisine and am bringing my vegetarian self down to Southbay in search of numb lips and rockin' South Indian food! I will likely be staying in Mountain View (unless someone can also recommend another central location with a nice, walkable downtown area!) but will be doing side errands in Milpitas and possibly San Jose.
Please, bring on the recs for great sichuan peppercorn dishes and dosas/idlis!
For authentic Chennai-style South Indian you can never go wrong with Saravanaa Bhavan in Sunnyvale. South Indian Thali or mini-tiffin (if available) are my favorites, but its hard to go wrong with anything South Indian there. This restaurant is one of numerous outlets spanning many countries and is based in Chennai. It is true vegetarian.
Sorry I can't help with South Bay Sichuan.
I second the Sarvana Bhavan recommendation. The mini-tiffin gets my vote as well. Also try the Mini Ghee Idli's, the Parotta, the Kaima Idli (spicy!), and the dosas (if you are into that)...
Anjappar in Milpitas serves some fiery curries from Chettinad. Their dishes tend to be fully precooked though, and can be a bit overcooked and 'stale' occassionally.
Madura in Sunnyvale (1635 Hollenbeck Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94087) makes a good South Indian Chole/Channa Bhatura..
South Legend Sichuan Restaurant in Milpitas was great the last time I was there (about 3 years ago), have not had a chace to hit them up recently..
Have not had a chance to be impressed by anything South Indian in Mountain View though..
If you can tell us a bit more about your specific tastes, I could give you some more specific recommendations..!
1720 N Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas, CA 95035
I concur with all those choices made by bigger_eyes at Saravanaa Bhavan. The strength of the mini-tiffin is that you don't overdo it on the dosa (it comes with a small one) - and you do get mini-idli's with it as well. Not to mention the kichidi which is tough to beat. Best to visit twice in a day (or two) and get the thali for lunch and the mini-tiffin for dinner or vice-versa. Its too bad the Sunnyvale branch isn't open for breakfast. I've never eaten at the others because I've always been hesitant to stray away from SB. If only we had something like any of these choices in Boston. I guess NYC isn't that far away...
re: Highland Park
Saravana Bhavan is OK, but I find Madura is much better for food, atmosphere, and service. Madras Cafe in Sunnyvale is still the king of the regular dosas, including their spicy Mysore and Kara dosas. Chaat Paradise in Mountain View is another good choice. Each of these places has their own distinct culinary personality, which is nice.
The one time I went to South Legend there were no Sichuan peppercorns in the mapa tofu - pretty unbelievably awful. I'm not planning to go back and I suggest you avoid it as well. I don't know any great Sichuan choices in our area at the moment; Indian food on the other hand is very strong here.
Got some recon from my S. Indian (Chennai) friend who ate there recently and confirms that Madura is an excellent choice and that the food will compete with Saravanaa Bhavan and in some instances is possibly better. I am most familiar with Saravanna Bhavan having dined there many times in NY, NJ, Vancouver, Dubai, and Chennai, all of which have been consistently excellent. Perhaps there has been some recent turmoil in the SF location?
re: Highland Park
I just ate at Madura after a few recommendations, and while I would like to believe that I hit it on a bad day, everything we tried was average, and in no way compared to SB..
The Cauliflower 65, which we ordered as an appetizer, while OK, was not a true '65'.
My masala dosa was soft, and the filling was bad - almost like a first attempt by someone at making the potato filling.. The chutneys were good though - mint, coconut and tomato. The dosa sambar was average in taste department, but stale (it was at least a day old).
The wife ordered the Thali. The dals were average, the sambar and rasam where both stale, and the kara kuzhambu, which I think is a good test of skill, could not compare with SB.
I have tasted their Chole Bhature once before (catering at a friend's party), and it was really great - have not had a chance to try it at the restaurant.
We went there on a weekday for dinner, and a total of 8 people passed through while we were there, which could explain the stale sambar & rasam.
The staff and the service were both excellent, though.
While we do plan to go back for another try, from my one experience this can't be compared to SB. I am not an SB fanboy and have called them out on many issues, but the food tends to be consistently superior, and given the crowds, fresh.
I can't remember the Madras Cafe dosas being superior, so I guess I will have to try it again..
Chaat Paradise is an excellent recommendation, though it is not a South Indian place..
165 E El Camino Real, Mountain View, CA 94040
bigger_eyes experience at Madura is consistent with my experiences when trying most other S. Indian restaurants and comparing them with SB. I will agree that there can be issues at SB, particularly that the service is not always ideal and the crowds can be daunting, but I have always had good results in getting my S. Indian fix there on a food level. The sambar is almost always perfect as are the dosa or bonda fillings. I have never approached S. Indian dining with the expectation that the service will be stellar or the surroundings beautiful, I generally expect efficient service with no bells and whistles and minimal interaction with wait staff. Authenticity in the food taste is the most important attribute to me with S. Indian.
Dals? I've had the special meal at Madura numerous times and don't recall dals. Maybe I'm misunderstanding? The pooriyal, kootu, and kurma choices are different each day. I also love the kuzhambu; maybe I should get back to SB and give that another try. I don't know any SB branch in San Francisco; the one we're discussing here is in Sunnyvale.
I find regular dosas and sambar to be better at Madras Cafe, and rava dosas and chutneys to be better at Madura.
The executive lunch dish with all the different rice options is another of my favorites at Madura, especially when I ask them to substitute the lemon rice for the curd rice.
Since no one else has mentioned, I'll put in a plug for my favorite South Indian place, Komala Vilas. They have a limited menu and at lunch it's all-you-can-eat tiffin. Haven't tried Madura or Anjappar. I think SB is just ok, but reliable. I was seriously underwhelmed by the dull flavors at Madras Cafe, and a friend who lives in Chennai and was recently visiting the Bay Area had a rava masala dosa and complained that it was terrible - some of the potatoes were undercooked!
1020 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
So sorry to have been *away* for so long! Thanks for all the recs on Indian food! I suspected Sunnyvale was more the place to be for Indian than M.V. but wanted to spend the night in a walkable, downtown area instead of driving all over the place. Sounds like S.B. will be the place to try. I love a good sambar!
Any thoughts of the sichuan peppercorn? If there is a hot spot for that anywhere between Mtn View and Napa, I can always swing by for dinner on my way home!
Thanks all :)
You're very right to base yourself in Mountain View because if you stay near its small-town downtown you have over 90 restaurants within six blocks (up from 72, five years ago) on and around Castro St. between Evelyn (the train station) and El Camino Real.
No other town in the county comes close, I'm very familir with them and eat out frequently in the region. Sunnyvale's small downtown around Murphy St is much smaller, and its development was, in fact, based on and followed Mountain View's 1989 downtown urban renewal.
The overwhelming majority of good information available to you on this site about the topics of your interest will be in past threads, available by searching. Below is a recent one on good cheap food, where I mentioned some downtown MV specifics.
Regarding Sichuan peppercorns (a beloved subject -- I just cooked another favorite dish with them), FYI of the eleven Chinese restaurants in that dense MV downtown, two do quite good Ma Po tofu, both (unlike the original recipe made by the old woman in China) vegetarian. The most authentic of these two, with rich citrusy aromas, numbing Sich. P'corns, and plenty of hot pepper, is from the Sichuanese chef at Hunan Chili, 102 Castro across the street from the train station. The restaurant is mentioned in the linked thread. Some customers go to that place specifically for that dish.
I don't know specifically of South Indian, but Sakoon, 357 Castro, is a "destination" avant-garde Indian place that surfaced immediately in the Michelin Guide after it opened last year. Just changed chefs I believe, but a great place for adventurous Indian cooking with lots of fresh vegetables and exquisite vegetarian offerings.
Hunan Chili Restaurant
102 Castro St, Mountain View, CA 94041
357 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94041