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Lowell's Udupi Bhavan:"Hole in the Wall" South Indian Vegetarian Cuisine at its Best (slogan:Good Luck Trying to Find Us)

opinionatedchef Oct 30, 2010 03:23 PM

The first thing I need to tell you about Udupi Bhavan (UB) is that the food is really uniquely excellent. Then I need to tell you that it is tucked into a hidden and sideways- oriented mini strip mall in the grubby industrial outskirts of Lowell. Its insides are as bland as bland can be, but it is clean and comfortable. Its staff is friendly but only one, a smiling balding fellow, can really tell you about the food.

Now back to the good stuff- that food.

I must say, it always surprises me not to find swarms of American vegetarians at these rare Southern Indian restaurants.(We are so lucky to have these restaurants in MA, thanks to the high tech companies that employ a significant number of South Indians.)In this case, unlike the close-by competitor, Priya, or the lesser Pongal, Udupi Bhavan does not serve any meat or seafood. Like the huge country of India itself ( land of 28 states, 21 languages and hundreds of dialects), Indian vegetarian cuisine is very diverse and complex .It also offers a lot of gluten-free starches, breads and crepes ( that are made of varying types of lentils and rice.)Each of the four states of South India has its own cuisine and many dishes are not common between states. Depending on the Indian state of the restaurant owner, chefs and targeted clientele, South India restaurants in the U.S. will not offer all the same items.

On Wednesdays UB has an all-you-can-eat Dosa menu and on Sundays 11:30am-9pm, they offer a large buffet that includes 3 differently filled (wheat) dosas(served at table.)
We have not yet visited on a Wed. or Sun. Of our menu samplings,our fav dishes here are the:
-Rava dosa(rice and cream of wheat batter dosa)- huge lacy crispy dosa, totally addictive. I like mine with the potato masala filling that usually comes in a flour dosa
-Pesarat dosa (rice and lentil batter dosa filled with uppuma)
-Malabar Adai- a very thick lentil batter pancake with vegetables in the batter
-Avial- vegetable chunks in coconut sauce
-Rasam- very complex sour and spicy soup
- Vegetable (patty)Cutlet, fried (includes beets! I had no idea they had beets in India, but they do)
-Medhu Wada - deep fried savory lentil donut-shaped fritters
Payasam - vermicelli noodles in a pool of cardamom cream w/ almonds

With all our Indian savories we order a bowl of plain yoghurt ; the bright acidic flavor perfectly complements the rich vegetarian dishes.

From us, 5 min. north of Tufts, it takes about 45-60 min. to get there. The much larger and more-known Priya, which I have reviewed before, has the plus of chicken dishes and some other specialties, but UB's dosas and all the dishes listed in our favs- are far superior. We're anxious to return for a $13 Wed. UB dosa dinner, and hope to see more CHs there in the future.

UDUPI BHAVAN
1717 Middlesex St.,
Lowell MA 01854 Exit 32 off Rt 3 North

PHONE: 978-654-6653

  1. t
    three of us Oct 30, 2010 07:25 PM

    Is this near the Hindu Temple and there is also an Indian grocer in the strip mall?
    Lowell's soccer fields -- Edwards Park -- is behind this strip mall and I would go to a vegetarian Indian restaurant to get something delicious to eat before my son's soccer games. Really comforting, tasty food and very, very nice staff.

    From Drum Hill Rotary, go past WalMart, the Pho place, and at the T-intersection, turn left. Go straight and at the last street on the left before the Merriimack River, turn right. The Temple will be on your left, set back. The restaurant is in a strip of stores to the left if you face the Temple.

    1 Reply
    1. re: three of us
      d
      Dinsdale45 Nov 1, 2010 05:43 AM

      Right behind the Jiffy Lube (they share the same parking lot).

    2. lipoff Oct 30, 2010 10:40 PM

      I love the Shrewsbury location, which is pretty easy to find. Lowell is probably closer if you are coming from Medford, but I find I'm more often near Shrewsbury for other reasons.

      1. u
        Uncle Yabai Oct 31, 2010 09:49 PM

        The UB is a "chain" of restaurants owned by the same family, they usually open near Hindu temples to serve the congregants before/during/after services. They have them in a number of places in the Northeast, as far West as Pittsburgh.

        I was introduced to the UB by Indian friends of mine, we would go to the Ashland location quite frequently, I think that one moved to Framingham or somewhere closer to civilization. Haven't been to an UB in a while, but I do remember that the tastiness of the food was only matched by the abismality of the service. You really needed to be patient and have a very thick skin to handle the perennial chaos that the UB was. But patient I was, the dosa, iddly, vada, and rasam were to kill for.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Uncle Yabai
          opinionatedchef Oct 31, 2010 10:13 PM

          that's pretty funny. Fortunately, this one does not have abysmal service, in my experience anyway. that fellow i mentioned is a really nice guy and has always taken good care of us there.

          1. re: opinionatedchef
            justbeingpolite Nov 1, 2010 05:49 AM

            I've never found the wait staff to be anything but pleasant, and had your waiter as well, who's quite nice. They're also the only game around, now that Mysore Veggie appears to be closed.
            The Thali is a nice way to try a bunch of things, but I've recently become hooked on the Channa Masala (chick pea curry): rich and delicious.

            -----
            Mysore Veggie
            1689 Middlesex St, Lowell, MA 01851

            1. re: justbeingpolite
              u
              Uncle Yabai Nov 1, 2010 06:26 AM

              They were always nice, just spectacularly disorganized. You know, the kind of place where you order and the waiter doesn't write anything down and you just *know* he's not getting it all... Huge lines at all times of day or night, and the queueing system had more holes than a Swiss Cheese, you had the feeling it was somewhat "elastic", if you know what I mean.

          2. re: Uncle Yabai
            a
            Amber181918 Jan 30, 2013 07:32 PM

            All locations have separate owners.

            1. re: Uncle Yabai
              a
              Amber181918 Apr 5, 2014 04:59 AM

              Udupi Bhavan is not a chain restaurant and is not owned by the same owner (whereas myself and my husband own the lowell location) if you look at all our websites, we serve some similar food but are not the same.

              1. re: Amber181918
                a
                Amber181918 Apr 5, 2014 05:01 AM

                Sorry! Didn't not see I had formerly commented!

            2. opinionatedchef Jan 1, 2011 11:23 PM

              MCSlim, where are you? This is perfect for your Phoenix column!

              This is an update on my opening initial post for this thread. As of this winter, we have spretty much forsaken Priya in favor of UB. while priya does sometimes have some really good dishes, UB's quality of flavor is generally way above that of Priya, most especially with the dosas and uthappam and the veg curries. Wednesday's Dosa Night is the best deal at UB, when they have a pre-fixe meal option. For $13, you will be served as many of the (MYRIAD kinds of)dosas and uthappam as you can eat, preceded by Medu Wada(deep fried donuts of fermented lentil/rice puree) with Sambar (thin curried lentil soup), all followed by dessert.

              NOW, the truth is that we order aLOT of other dishes to supplement the pre-fixe, simply because we like having leftovers for the week, and some of our fav dishes are not included in the special dosa night package.

              of the things that ARE in the Wed. package, our fav dosa and uthappam choices are the Paper masala dosa (potato onion filling) and the Vegetable Uthappam, and the Spinach dosa. Keep in mind that you can try as many as you'd like.

              we like to have some non-starch vegetables with our starch entrees and, so far, our favs of the veg curries are the Kadai Bhendi, okra w/ a tikka masala type sauce, and the South Indian vegetable curry. we also love the Special Wada that are completely different from the medu vada; they are not puffy and light donuts but heavy patties and dense w/ corn and other vegs.

              my all time favs that are not on the package menu:
              1) Rava Masala Dosa with potato filling (the crepe is lacy and crispy; made with different ingredients in the batter.) and
              2) Pesarat (again, this crepe's batter made with different flours from the regular dosas, and it is filled with a farina(uppama) that includes lentils, black mustard seed, spices and vegetables) and
              3) Malabar Adai, a very thick uthapam- like pancake with onions, tomatoes, carrots etc mixed into the pancake batter itself.

              Their Vegetable Cutlets are especially excellent and have chopped beets included in the mixture! The waiters tell me that beets ARE common in India; I had no idea.

              Also not on the package menu, you can find the VERY RARELY sighted dessert of paratha filled with sweetened lentil and coconut filling. yummmmm. Their masala tea is especially good (priya's is awful) and they also have a rare beverage called Milk Almond Tea which basically is just like kheer (rice cooked in milk with sugar and cardamom and almonds/pistachios)but without the rice! Such a luscious comforting way to end a winter meal!

              The easiest landmark is the KFC which is on the right side of the street directly across from where you turn to park behind the Jiffy Lube , right next to this little sideways strip mall.

              Word is really getting out about this place because it's much more crowded now than when we started going here. And it is a SMALL place. I would NOT suggest going for the Sunday buffet; the lines are too LONG.

              I wanted to provide so many details about the food because it is so foreign to americans; i hope it's helpful. Plse tell us if you do venture out to try this very special place!

              1 Reply
              1. re: opinionatedchef
                MC Slim JB Dec 21, 2011 04:26 AM

                My geographic limits for the Boston Phoenix "On the Cheap" column are pretty tightly circumscribed. Lowell is definitely way out of bounds, alas.

                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

              2. yarm Jan 4, 2011 09:13 AM

                If only this place was closer, I would go more often! Definitely tasty and rather unique offerings. I do miss the Udipi Bhavan branch that used to be in Framingham (I used to work out that way). The same food but a better ambiance -- the restaurant was in an old high ceilinged train station.

                The Indian food/spice store next to UB is rather worth a visit too!

                1. Allstonian Dec 21, 2011 04:10 AM

                  I realize that this is a very small nit to pick, and I hesitated to bring it up, but folks will have MUCH better luck searching for more information about this restaurant, both here and on Google, using the correct spelling. It's Udupi Bhavan - two "u"s, only one "i."

                  1. Ferrari328 Feb 14, 2012 02:35 PM

                    They now offer a buffet at lunchtime and it seems that it's an expanded Thali for $8.95 but with more selections. You can build your own Thali and you also get a choice of one Dosa with the buffet so this is really an exceptionally good deal especially for me since I always got the Thali. All the food was kept hot and the bread was replenished frequently. Wish more restaurants would put a pitcher of ice water on your table.
                    Could the title be changed to reflect the correct spelling Udupi Bhavan.

                    19 Replies
                    1. re: Ferrari328
                      opinionatedchef Feb 14, 2012 10:44 PM

                      thanks for that news about UB. i have written the mods and asked them to correct my title. if you want to do the same it's:

                      moderators@chowhound.com

                      1. re: opinionatedchef
                        Ferrari328 Feb 17, 2012 12:24 PM

                        Title is changed!

                        1. re: Ferrari328
                          opinionatedchef Feb 17, 2012 12:35 PM

                          <ask and ye shall receive> :-}

                      2. re: Ferrari328
                        opinionatedchef Feb 14, 2012 10:57 PM

                        ferr, have you tried Biryani Park, Meena's Kitchen, and the So Indian place in Burlington? Wonder how you think they compare with UB?

                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                          Ferrari328 Feb 15, 2012 10:28 AM

                          I think Meena's kitchen is excellent with really tasty food and their 6 course meal for lunch is a bargain for $9.99. Funny thing is that deal is not on the website or on the menu. It's just there...
                          I stopped by the place in Burlington after they opened and it was so depressing looking I just left. Not to mentioning that the menu had no indication what was in the dishes and that is fine if you are only looking for Indian customers. I should stop by again and see if things have improved.

                           
                           
                          1. re: Ferrari328
                            opinionatedchef Feb 15, 2012 12:43 PM

                            ferrari, what appealing photos! thanks for that. I must say, I am so surprised Boston CHs don't seem to go up there- it's just a hop from Lowell.

                            1. re: opinionatedchef
                              s
                              Swankalicious Feb 15, 2012 04:39 PM

                              @Opinionated, we also live close to Tufts and go to Lowell quite a bit. It usually takes us a half-hour, 40 minutes max. Do you know the secret route? :)

                              1. re: Swankalicious
                                whs Feb 15, 2012 04:50 PM

                                If you learn two basic words in Tamil, you will be treated like a king:
                                Vaṇakkam - Hello
                                Nandri - thank you

                                1. re: whs
                                  opinionatedchef Feb 15, 2012 06:14 PM

                                  great to know. nandri !

                                2. re: Swankalicious
                                  opinionatedchef Feb 15, 2012 06:13 PM

                                  do you mean 38?if not, plse let me know! opinionatedchefatcomcastdotnet
                                  thanks much.

                                  1. re: Swankalicious
                                    Aromatherapy Feb 16, 2012 07:11 AM

                                    Please share secret route. Tx.

                                    1. re: Aromatherapy
                                      opinionatedchef Feb 17, 2012 12:18 PM

                                      aroma, i know you didn't ask me, but last night we left at 6pm in rain and went from Montvale exit of 93 and it took us 25 min to get to the Lowell cinema for the da vinci film and then 10 min to Simply Khmer.
                                      93 to 495 to lowell connector to rt 3 to rotary> industrial ave to lincoln st.

                                      if swank is referring to the rt 38 route to lowell, that might not work for where you are coming from.

                                      1. re: opinionatedchef
                                        Aromatherapy Feb 17, 2012 01:08 PM

                                        I thought I was asking you. Thanks.

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef
                                          s
                                          Swankalicious Feb 18, 2012 10:32 AM

                                          Hi OpinionatedChef,
                                          From Tufts, take the Middlesex Tpk through Winchester toward Burlington Mall. Get on Route 3, through Billerica, and then you have two choices: For some gritty excitement, get on the Lowell Connector. Get off at Highlands, take Parker to Pine St to Middlesex Street, then scoot over the Rourke Bridge. Alternatively, stay on Rte 3 til Westford St (almost going into Chelmsford), and follow Westford Street to the Rourke. It should take you 40 minutes MAX. Takes us 30.

                                          1. re: Swankalicious
                                            opinionatedchef Feb 18, 2012 01:20 PM

                                            o.k., thanks much swank. i think you might be over towards lexington? so my route above might not work for you, but take a look!

                                            1. re: Swankalicious
                                              l
                                              lexpatti Feb 19, 2012 06:33 AM

                                              I think you might be wasting some time snaking throughlowell when you can go a couple exits up rt 3 to exit 31 drumhill rotary, take a rt at end of exit, go 3/4 mile til it becomes Wood st, take right on Middlesex (mrk bsk shopping center on your left), your destination is up on the left. I think this would save time.....we drive past this often but haven't gone yet....its in our near future now...thanks

                                              1. re: lexpatti
                                                q
                                                qianning Feb 19, 2012 12:20 PM

                                                You haven't been to Udupi Bhavan Lex? Strikes me as the kind of place that you would really like.

                                                1. re: qianning
                                                  l
                                                  lexpatti Mar 27, 2012 05:24 PM

                                                  Yayyy, finally made it in to Udupi Bhavan...OMG loved it. We've been wanting to go for a while now and recently ran into a friend/chef/teacher who says he eats here like at least twice a week. Can't wait to go back and try more items but the manager (Rozan??) was awesome helping us pick out some great dishes: vegetable samosas, spring dosai (filled with veggies, cheese, potato, onions), hot uthappam which had onions, chili, garlic and tomato, and the navartthan korma curry with mixed veggies, nuts, raisins...... so fresh and delish.... I love this place, all servers were very pleasant. I can't wait to go back.... this could easily be a once a week addiction if not more..... I don't know indian food very well but I know awesome flavors....

                                          2. re: Aromatherapy
                                            opinionatedchef Feb 20, 2012 06:03 PM

                                            i am confused. the directions i gave you above were for Simply Khmer on Lincoln St in lowell, so maybe i thought i was on that thread. for Udupi Bhavan, I do the same as lexpatti. But if you go there at night, the real trouble can occur at the beginning of Wood St (good luck seeing the sign). You must stay on Wood past some shopping centers, before you turn right onto Middlesex and then, shortly, a left (across from KFC) driving back next to a short strip mall that is perpendicular to the street. Plse don't shoot yourself in the foot and go when it is pitchblack and raining!

                                3. Ferrari328 Feb 28, 2012 11:08 AM

                                  Vegetarian lunch at Udupi Bhavan today for the lunch buffet, basically a Thali on steroids, where you select only the good stuff plus you also get a Dosa normal or spicy (Top left) and Poori bread. Soup up top, gone then I had Dhal, spicy lentils, Spinach and Chickpeas, very good and a tomato based dish with Nuts and Tofu, mild but very tasty. Rice is a vegetarian Buruani. For all your vegetarians out there they do an all you can eat Dosa on Wednesday nights. Oh and there was Samosa's and Pakora's for appetizer.
                                  Best way to get there at lunch time is to take rte 4 at the rotary to 3A and then cut across to Middlesex St.

                                   
                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Ferrari328
                                    opinionatedchef Feb 28, 2012 12:36 PM

                                    that's terrif! thx for the report.

                                    1. re: Ferrari328
                                      denisb May 11, 2012 07:25 AM

                                      Ferrari328, love your photos: I know some of those places (can you believe Gene's Flatbread?) , but I'll definitely try some of the others!

                                    2. denisb May 11, 2012 07:19 AM

                                      Chiming in with my hearty agreement: my wife and I have been going to Udupi Bhavan for several years now, and each time we're newly amazed and delighted.

                                      Fair warning: as others have reported, the place is hard to find -- I still frequently miss the turn off of Middlesex Rd. But as for stories about the wait staff, they couldn't be nicer or more attentive.

                                      Now about the food: since I appreciate the recommendations of other respondents, here are some of our impressions:

                                      * My wife and I like the buffet. Unlike in some restaurants where buffet food sits in hot trays for too long and gets overcooked, business at Udupi is so brisk that they're constantly bringing out fresh batches. I recommend it as a good way to sample a lot of things. Fortunately, the buffet includes a fresh dosa delivered to your table.

                                      * Did I mention dosa? That and the uttapam are what I usually crave when I come here. A lot of Indian restaurants, even non-southern ones, offer both these days. They'll do in a pinch, but we've found none that compares to Udupi's: crisp, lacy, and tangy. I get the potato dosa sometimes, but usually prefer mine plain. Similarly, I avoid a lot of toppings on the uttapam, which is perfect all by itself.

                                      * We have ordered a la carte a few times. Last night I had the paneer bhurgi, which we both agreed was an outstanding curry. We've had some dals and other curries too; none have disappointed. Our waiter recommended the gobi manchurian; maybe I'll try that next time.

                                      * We like too many of the appetizers to choose just one, so we often get the mixed platter. A lot are fried, but they seem light as air.

                                      Interestingly, before Udupi (maybe 20 years ago), this site used to be a Jain restaurant, which we also liked a lot. No doubt it also catered to worshipers at the nearby temple. Our waiter last night (the bald guy) told us Udupi is planning on opening a new place at 295 Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua NH -- a site where we've seen several conventional Indian restaurants come and go. Our waiter says that history worries them, but as we told him, those places were not very good. If Udupi can keep the current quality and service, they should have no problem.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: denisb
                                        whs May 14, 2012 04:52 PM

                                        Exciting news about the Nashua branch! Hope it does not affect Meena's Kitchen too much.

                                        1. re: denisb
                                          opinionatedchef Apr 4, 2014 11:28 PM

                                          Just an update that the Nashua place is no longer owned by the Lowell Udupi Bhavan owner.

                                          denisb, ferrari et al- have you been here recently? I'd like to try the lunch buffet.(But the one time we tried for the sunday evening buffet it was truly crazy packed, so we won't be trying that again!)

                                          And how is Meena's these days? Is she still doing a pretty limited menu? Such a talented chef she is.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef
                                            a
                                            Amber181918 Apr 5, 2014 05:03 AM

                                            Meenas has been closed for some time now

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