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CholaNad - Chapel Hill, NC

A friend recommended trying CholaNad, so today we went there for dinner.

I arrived first and the bartender made me feel very welcome, friendly and low-key. I liked the atmosphere, enough that I would've stayed there alone to eat at the bar. Unbeknownst to me when we made dinner plans, Thursdays the restaurant has a beer special, any kind for $2 - bonus!

Once my pal showed up we shared an app of Kuzhi Paniyaram, little steamed rice balls that come with a mild tomato chutney for dipping. For my main I picked the soft shell crab with a dosa, and she had a dosa roll stuffed with chicken. The sauce/gravy for my crab was fantastic, and the giant dosa worked well in picking it up. The dosa was crisp at the edges and crisper on one side than the other, so you could fold it and roll it up but it still had some body and wouldn't collapse when picking up the gravy.

The chef came out of the kitchen several times to talk to the tables. I was all fired up for the crab, but my friend had quite a discussion with him about which dish to try. Service was very attentive, almost too much at the beginning when there weren't many people (we ate early), but then the restaurant filled up and the attentiveness level went to 'really good but not too much'.

We both finished with coffee (and sweet lassi for me), and I had carrot halva for dessert. The plate had a somewhat artistic presentation with two squiggles of some kind of syrup on one side, which I usually ignore but I tried it. The squiggles were actually delicious! One was flavored with cinnamon, and the other, a white one, I couldn't decipher. The chef told us it's white chocolate with marshmallow, interesting and somehow not overly sweet, kind of vaguely coconutty.
I swear I don't usually get excited about the random decorative squiggles on dessert plates. But that's because they're usually just chocolate or blueberry.

We had a great time and will definitely be back. I'm collecting local restaurants to take my parents to when they visit from Toronto, and this is definitely one of them.

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  1. I'm glad to see my friend's report. Because it's rare to find a Tamil restaurant serving meat dishes, this time I abandoned my veg principles and had the chicken curry dosa. As you can see from the pic, it was sfuffed full of chicken and served with this wonderful thick chicken gravy and raita. All I can say is: food of the gods, it was so good. I owe it all to the hound who posted about chicken dosas. Thank you thank you:)

    2 Replies
    1. re: Rory

      I think that was me-- if so, you're welcome. I so love that chicken dosa. It may be the best, most delicious deal in Chapel Hill.

    2. Welcome to Chowhound!

      Your review has my mouth watering...where is CholaNad located? I don't get to CH that frequently, but I plan to keep an eye out for this place if I'm nearby.

      3 Replies
      1. re: meatn3

        on Franklin St., in the old Cypress/Trail Shop location

        1. re: brokegradstudent

          mean3; it's across the street from The Franklin Hotel.

          1. re: Rory

            I had dinner at CholaNad this past Friday night. I thought the atmosphere was very nice. The food was quite good but the portions seemed small for the quality and price. I regret to say that the service certainly wasn't up to par.

            I usually appreciate service that is laid back and casual, but what we had was casual to the point of being sloppy. Although they were very friendly and accommodating, the two servers we had didn't recognize the names of items we ordered from the menu, couldn't answer questions about entree ingredients or preparation methods and, lastly, started clearing our table before asking if we were finished eating. Then, when they finally did clear our table they accidentally swiped a curry laden spoon across my jacket and tried to pretend they didn't notice that this had occurred.

            I'll write this experience off to growing pains of a new restaurant, and I'll certainly go back again, but I hope others are getting better service that what we had.

            I did think it was a nice touch for the chef to walk around the dining room to chat with his dinner guests.

      2. Quick question I can't find an answer to on their website: do they have a full bar? My mother, who likes a scotch with dinner, is coming and I was thinking of this as a nice spot to take her for dinner, but need to make sure beforehand. Thanks in advance.

        27 Replies
        1. re: LulusMom

          This is a question easily answered by a phone call, but I'll answer it here. Yes, they do have a full bar - a better bar than most Indian places

          1. re: Tom from Raleigh

            their wines are really nice and that goes for all places. They make a big effort.

            1. re: Rory

              Yay, mom won't drink wine. Has to be the hard stuff. And Tom, yes, but I just figured someone here would know. I was surprised that the website didn't mention anything about the drink situation. Thanks to you both.

              1. re: LulusMom

                LM talk to the bartender or chef; they are really proud of their wine list & have many by the glass and love to make suggestions. First class, I wish Panzanella had such good wines. Enjoy!

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Looking forward to the report. I've wanted to try this place.

                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                    Just found out this morning that the day my mother is coming is also Chapel Thrill (or whatever they call it) day. Pondering whether or not it will still be worth trying to go there. We'd have to eat early (Lulu's schedule) while the crowds were still around, which might not make it so much fun. At least we can walk there and back.

                    1. re: LulusMom

                      Festifall... And if you can walk and avoid the parking chaos, it's probably worth a try. I have been to Festifall in years, but I remember it being more on the east side of Columbia St.

                      1. re: mpjmph

                        That is great news (about Festifall and the east side) because last night I bit the bullet and made the reservation. We'll walk down and back, and I'm really looking forward to it (so is my scotch loving mom). Thanks to everyone for the info and help.

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          Here's the event guide with a map: http://www.townofchapelhill.org/Modul...

                          It looks like they have moved the event since I last attended (or I am completely mis-remembering it). Looks like things stretch from Mallette to Graham.

                          1. re: mpjmph

                            We'll still be just a bit off it then, I think CholaNad is just a bit west of Mallette. Truly appreciate your help!

                      2. re: LulusMom

                        good time to try Oakleaf or Yamazushi :-p

                        1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                          Oakleaf isn't open on Sunday evenings and my mother isn't a fan of Japanese food. But I definitely want to try both!

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            Just got back from NYC where I ate at two really top-rated Indian restaurants & they didn't come close to Cholanad & Vimala. We not only have top chefs we have such fresh local ingrediants; what a difference. Enjoy LM & MLM (mother of lutu's m..lol)

                            1. re: Rory

                              Which two? Was Tabla one of them?

                              1. re: bbqme

                                I've eaten at Tabla and loved it. But I ate at Cholanad last night and think it might be the best Indian restaurant I've ever been to. Thanks to previous posts for steering us (and yes, it included MLM!!). We started with the chicken dosa and shared that; Lulu also had some lamb kofta from the apps page. For my main I got the chicken biryani and my mother got chicken with curried spinach; Lulu shared those with us and also had the chicken curry puffs (again, from the apps). The two real winners were the biryani and that chicken dosa. Those were just so great. Tons left over - they really feed you there.

                                Service was just this side of awful. The guy was obviously new and knew nothing about the wines and took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get to us. I had to go up to the bar to discuss my wine choice with the bartender, but she was helpful. They were not at all busy but seriously, this waiter was having a hard time keeping up. Still and all the food was so good that I will eagerly await my next trip there. Burgeoning - you need to try it!

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  So happy you loved it! Damn, now I'm jonesing for one of their chicken dosas!

                                  1. re: bbqme

                                    Had my leftovers last night and still delicious reheated. One of the people who worked there told me he prefers the spring dosa (the vegetable one) so maybe next time I'm try one of those. Then again ... how could I resist the chicken?

                                    I do hope they get their service issues ironed out.

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      i've been going occasionally for the past year or so, at both lunch and dinner, and service has always been a bit poky, and it is exacerbated when the restaurant is full. It can be frustrating and detract from enjoying the delicious food.

                                      1. re: cervisiam

                                        Went there for lunch and had the Chettinad-style shrimp curry. This place has the little details that sets it apart. The use good quality basmati rice that's perfectly cooked. I loved the slivers of raw ginger as a garnish that added a fresh bite to the dish-- totally stealing that idea for my own curry making. The curry had the right amount of heat-- enough to liven the tongue. I need to work through more of the menu at this place.

                                        1. re: bbqme

                                          Do I need to put the shrimp on my list of things I have to try there? I loved the biryani and the chicken dosa so much I can't imagine ordering anything else.

                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                            Tell you what, you try the shrimp curry and I'll try the biryani and we'll compare notes. Biryani is difficult to make properly, especially a la carte, thus I've been reluctant to order it at a restaurant. If they do it well that's another feather in their cap.

                                  2. re: LulusMom

                                    Anytime you wanna do lunch give a me a few days notice via email.

                                    1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                      Absolutely! Right now my schedule is overwhelming, but things should calm down a bit in November.

                                      LulusDad just back from a trip and I was raving about this place to him. Lulu said "well, it isn't the best Indian food I've ever had." So I asked her where she'd had better and she said "here." Ahhhhh.

                                2. re: Rory

                                  Hey hey! Wish I was still there, we never did go to the tofu soup place.

                                  1. re: Nudibranch

                                    Too bad you missed Vit Goal; Where are you in the frosty North?

                                    bqme the biryani is exceptional, I never eat it anywhere. The shrimp pesarratu was terrific. Andhra eggs definitely. Also try the curry (goat) dosa. Hmm I don' t think the spring dosa is a big deal.
                                    pity Tabla is now closed...

                                    1. re: Rory

                                      Yeah, frozen Atlantic north now. Although they just asked if I'd like to go to...warmer place for a while ;)

                2. Here is a link:

                  **office alert - music starts automatically!**

                  1. I finally made it to CholaNad last night for my 30th birthday dinner with friends, and had a wonderful time. We had a reservation for 7, and were seated in the back corner. They didn't seat any other parties near us until we were almost ready to leave, so we almost had a private room.

                    I had the crab with coconut and dosa, and enjoyed it. My friends had a range of dishes, and everyone seemed to like what they had. The only complaint was about a cocktail that had a medicinal taste.

                    Rather than complementary dessert for birthdays, they give the honoree a complementary glass of champagne. It was a nice touch! No singing at our table, but we could hear the waitstaff sing for another party. I hope/assume that was a child's birthday. The owner/chef made his rounds to every table, and made sure to wish me a happy birthday when he saw the champagne.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mpjmph

                      going tonight they're open christmas eve, thank goodness, though getting booked out.

                      mpjmph; happy birthday and glad you had a great time:)!

                    2. I finally went to Cholanad with a few people (lulusmom, romansperson and lulu herself) and sampled some of Cholanads food. . We shared a lot of appetizers. Vadai, Medieval Rice Puffs, Samosa Chaat, Chicken Puffs and I think there was one more. They were all tasty but I feel like maybe they could have had a stronger flavor. The majority of the table liked the Chaat and the Chicken Puffs (which resemble an apple turnover in puff pastry).

                      My dish of Soft Shell Crab with Roan Coconut Xec Xec was interesting and tasted fine but I thought there may be a bit more heat to it? I have no basis for what it should taste like (not having had Indian home cooking or having traveled to that part of the world). Also I don't understand the purpose of the crunchy dosa roll up that comes on top of it. Was I suppose to crush it up and put it in with the curry?

                      LulusMom ordered the Chicken Biryani for the table since it was large enough. This I was familiar with or at least had basis to compare from other restaurants and I thought it was good but wasn't a stand out from any other version I had tried.

                      I was also given a piece of the chicken dosa to try and it was just okay. I got the spices that the chicken was in but wasn't sure if it was suppose to be hotter or not.

                      The service was friendly and answered most of the questions we tossed out and was always refilling our drinks so no one had a problem there.

                      Lastly and this is just a need to educate myself. I never know what to do when a dish comes with two different sauces/chutneys. Do I use both? Do I dip the food in one and use the other as a palate cleanser?

                      I think I will have to head back to Tower in Morrisville/Cary to see how their food compares. I do remember it being much hotter than Cholanads.

                      14 Replies
                      1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                        Yes, I'm sorry that you and romansperson weren't as madly taken with Cholanad as I am - I felt bad about that. I still love it though, and even snuck some of the leftovers with my fruit at breakfast time (and I'm very much not a food in the morning person).

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          No need to feel bad at all! You can't ever know how you'll like something until you try for yourself and that's what this (food, life, etc.) is all about.

                          I brought my leftovers for lunch today and enjoyed them (the last half of the last chicken puff and the chicken dosa).

                          Did it knock my socks off? No. Would I go back and try some other things? Most definitely. The service and ambience were quite good as well.

                          1. re: romansperson

                            True, and I'm glad you have that outlook on it. The waitress was just great, and it turns out that To Be or Not to Be was a Mel Brooks movie. Bravo to her!!


                          2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                            Treat chutneys like dips. When it comes to Indian food there are few rules, just do whatever brings you enjoyment.

                              1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                Tamil food isn't all about heat either. And high end Southern food is sophisticated with subtle masalas. So I think BF for your newby enjoyment go to Tower in Morrisville but then again Southern food might not be your thing, go for Northern.

                                About the dosa, you don't crumble it, you can break off a piece scoop chutneys/pickles or pick up food with it.

                                1. re: Rory


                                  I know that you can use naan for the same purpose but the dosa roll that came with this was hard like a fortune cookie.

                                  1. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                    BF I suggest you reread the first post by my friend Nudibranch (I was with her) who had the crab dish and sopped up the gravy with her dosa.

                                    A dosa is a lentil rice crepe, fantastically nutritious; why don't you read this and learn a bit more about Southern Indian Food http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_In...

                                    1. re: Rory

                                      Why do you assume that I don't know what a dosa is? I know what a dosa is. I have had them before. I had 1 1/4 ones at this sitting. The one that came with my meal was very crisp and the one that came with a filling were somewhat softer. I did put mine into the broth. I was stating that if I had tried to break off a piece the whole thing would have crumbled into bits and made quite a mess.

                                2. re: burgeoningfoodie

                                  As for Tower, it may be a bit more spicy than Cholanad because they cater to a larger Indian clientele that live in Morrisville than does in Chapel Hill. But as you may know, Tower is all veg so it's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. And if you like it spicy just ask Cholanad to make it spicy, I'm sure they'd be happy to oblige. One of the reasons I like Cholanad so much is the chef/owner is very amiable, something other Indian restaurants in the area should emulate.

                                  1. re: bbqme

                                    Something *all* restaurants in the area should emulate. He's really very nice. I've never been there when he hasn't come out and talked to everyone to make sure they're enjoying the meal.

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      bbqme & LM; Subash is indeed extremely nice and helpful. I tried so many new things due to his recommendations & learned a lot about Tamil Food. And Vimala! she's the epitome of warmth and hospitality. I've had so many delicious dishes at her place. We're lucky in Chapel Hill.

                                    2. re: bbqme

                                      I don't necessarily WANT it spicier. I was just saying I thought it might be spicier, but I understand erring on the tamer side when it happens because you can always add.. you can't take away.

                              2. I've never been a big fan of Indian food. A long time ago I tried some that I didn't like. I realize there are different styles and I don't know what style I had.

                                I'd like to try again, though. I don't care for the highly spiced cumin-laden dishes. And I don't want anything too spicy. Could someone tell me what dishes at Cholanad, if any, I might enjoy? For that matter, what dishes at any of the Indian restaurants in the Triangle might be good.