Roadside café, Indian-style
On the Cheap by John Buntin
A dhaba is the Indian equivalent of a truck stop. Travelers eating at a
dhaba might be served some of the best home-style food in India, or a dish
cooked in motor oil. Or both. So when Punjabi Dhaba opened in Cambridge's Inman
Square, we were intrigued but wary.
We ordered the mixed platter for two: half a tandoori chicken, chicken and
vegetable curries, a pakora, a samosa, fulkha, and rice and chutney. The
tandoori chicken was just what it should be: deeply flavorful, with the
characteristic rust-brown color of tandoori paste. And the pakoras, samosas,
and paratha bread were unexpected treats. Everything was noticeably fresh,
especially the delicious chutney. Only the curries disappointed; the vegetable
and chicken versions were eerily interchangeable in taste and texture.
At $10.95, it was a meal we could easily have paid twice as much for at
another Indian restaurant. Other dishes were also good values. The Dhaba
special chicken curry ($5.95) was tasty; potato chatt ($2.95), a tangy potato
salad in a tamarind sauce, was particularly good. Though Punjabi Dhaba has
abandoned plans to serve breakfast, the kitchen is happy to prepare the
breakfast dishes still listed on the menu. Dahi vada ($2.50), a crispy bean
patty submerged in yogurt, is delicious -- a clear improvement on granola.
The downside of these great values is the plain storefront atmosphere. Expect
to fetch your own drinks and be served on old-fashioned metal meal trays.
Service, however, is extremely friendly: express an interest in an unknown dish
only if you're prepared for a sample to materialize on your table.
Punjabi Dhaba, located at 225 Hampshire Street, in Cambridge, is open daily
from 11 a.m. to midnight. Call (617) 547-8272.
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