THE DINING SCENE
Everyone has a favorite Devon lunch or dinner spot from the wide array of cuisines and prices. Hema’s Kitchen (2439 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-1627) and Tiffin (2536 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-2143) are always popular, highlighting cooking that’s more familiar to American tastes: think yogurt-based sauces, tandoori, biryani, rogan josh, and other dishes associated with northern India or the city of Hyderabad. But Devon offers excellent southern Indian cuisine and Pakistani fare, too. Ignore the fact that some restaurants have the ambiance and décor of an interstate truck stop. With food this good, inexpensive, and plentiful, curtains and a carpet are beside the point. At the Pakistani Khan BBQ (2401 W. Devon Ave.; 773-274-8600), for example, the savory broiled kebabs are so filling you can feed four adults from one order.
To generalize a bit, southern Indian cooking is rice based and vegetarian and can be spicier than in the north. I frequent Mysore Woodlands (2548 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-8160) and Udupi Palace (2543 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-2152). Thali meals are my favorites, with half a dozen vegetables and condiments served on a plate around a mountain of rice and a flatbread chapatti on the side. Order one of the uthappam selections (a pizzalike rice pancake topped with various vegetables) or a dosai (rolled crepes stuffed with your choice of spiced potatoes, onions, and chutneys).
If you’re a bread lover and you’ve never tried anything beyond the standard naan, you’re in for a double treat, since the breads of South Asia are phenomenal. Check out the puffed-up puri, the wheat kulcha, and—my downfall—the flaky, multilayered paratha.
Finally, do not leave the area before indulging in rasmalai (a custard-like frozen dessert of condensed milk) or the supersweet, donutlike gulab jamun. You may never eat another cupcake.
TASTE THE REAL INDIA
2646 W. Devon Ave.; 773-338-8100
On auspicious weekdays—when there’s no traffic and empty parking spaces beckon up and down Devon—I can be gorging on lunch at Kamdar Plaza within 20 minutes of leaving my Lake View home. It’s a beacon to me, my favorite secret oasis that substitutes, briefly, for India.
Kamdar is a nifty little market with great prices for dry goods and spices, including some you might never use except in recipes of the subcontinent. The staff is unfailingly kind and will help you along if you need fenugreek for your masala, asafetida for your dal, or just some basic ghee.
The market’s jovial owner, Kishor Kamdar, and the manager, Dinesh Doshi, are known to everyone on Devon, and they enjoy selecting the perfect aroma for you from their avalanche of more than 150 varieties of incense. Try one of the “helpful” fragrances like Against Jealousy or Get Clients and lament the lack of any for memory improvement or instant weight loss.
But to me the very best thing about Kamdar is the snack bar, an essential part of my life. Here you can find the delicious vegetarian street food of South Asia, called chaat. I crave panipuris, which are hollow wheat crisps you fill with potatoes, pigeon peas, and sweet tamarind. Dip one in spicy mint sauce and pop the whole thing in your mouth. Another favorite is the bhel puri, made with crunchy puffed rice. Kamdar’s fresh mango lassi, a cooling yogurt drink offered in many restaurants, makes a scrumptious finale.
Before you leave, sisters Parul and Leena will encourage you to sample some of their spiced, salty snacks made of nuts and assorted grains or sweets containing dates and pistachios. Definitely indulge . . . you’re sure to take some home with you.
OTHER DELECTABLE MARKETS
Fresh Farms International Market
2626 W. Devon Ave.; 773-764-3557
Here you’ll find fresh and inexpensive produce, a dozen varieties of chili peppers, aromatic curry leaves, and wonderful frozen foods—with a bonus juice bar! (Try the freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with a dollop of ginger.) In the spring, you can get a tray of fresh figs for $7 and heavenly Indian mangoes, which, at $35 a box, are worth every cent.
2610 W. Devon Ave.; 773-262-7777
Patel’s has the largest selection of dry goods, nuts, and spices on the avenue, and if you’re a raw-almond lover, look no further: a bargain at four pounds for $11.99. The varieties of chutneys and pickles are mind numbing and all worth trying: lime, garlic, tomato, and mango, to name a few. This is also my stop for fragrant oils, soaps, and shampoos.