Lowell's Udupi Bhavan:"Hole in the Wall" South Indian Vegetarian Cuisine at its Best (slogan:Good Luck Trying to Find Us)
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.
1717 Middlesex St.,
Lowell MA 01854 Exit 32 off Rt 3 North
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.
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.
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.
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.
1689 Middlesex St, Lowell, MA 01851
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.
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!
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!