Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

Restaurants: Devon and Beyond, January 15, 2009

Fifteen Indian restaurants

comment

Devon and Beyond

Arya Bhavan2508 W. Devon | 773-274-5800

$Indian/Pakistani, Vegetarian/Healthy | Lunch, Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday

Cheerful pink napkins decorate the tables and colorful Rajasthani crafts brighten the walls at Arya Bhavan, which means "our home." But the main room is dominated by a 20-foot buffet, which on the weekends is laden with all-vegetarian curries, sweets, appetizers, rice, salad, and cooling raita. Along with traditional favorites like chana masala and mutter paneer are original creations by chef Jay Shef. One of his best is the addictive undhia, a complex curry of eggplant, sweet potatoes, and plantains. Appetizers include the always popular samosas and spicy veggie cutlets. The satisfying uthappam, pancakes topped with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro, are made to order at one end of the buffet and disappear quickly. Ordering from the lengthy menu allows one to try Indian specialties ranging from a delightful south Indian avial (vegetables cooked with coconut, yogurt, and chiles) to Kashmiri curry and rice. There are also 15 types of bread, including vegan varieties. —Cara Jepsen

Bhabi's Kitchen6352 N. Oakley | 773-764-7007

F 7.3 | S 7.0 | A 6.2 | $ (12 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

Once a humble storefront, Bhabi's Kitchen has been swanked up to become one of the more pleasantly appointed Indo-Pak restaurants around Devon (prices have risen accordingly). Mr. Syed, the owner, is a genial presence; ask him what's good and he'll passionately regale you with a stream of talk for as long as you'll listen. This time around he recommended haleem, beef simmered for many hours with wheat and lentils and sprinkled with fried onions, an intriguing combination of flavors and textures. Butter chicken comes bathed in a mild tomato broth, toned down for less adventurous palates. There are a good number of vegetarian offerings here, among them biryani (also available in fish or meat renditions) and sarsoo ka sang, a puree of broccoli rabe sparkling with explosive ginger chunks. Syed orchestrates meals so that tastes won't blur; for instance, bagarey baigan, an eggplant dish, is cooked in a hummuslike sesame sauce also used in the fish curry, so we were advised not to order both together. Two of Bhabi's signature dishes, naan with onion, garlic, and green pepper or with pistachio and mixed fruit (almost a dessert), could make a meal all by themselves. Bhabi's Kitchen is BYOB, to keep spirits high and the bill low. —David Hammond

Chopal Kabab and Steak2242 W. Devon | 773-338-4080

$Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11:45

The exceedingly friendly Ali Khawaja appears to have sunk a lot of naan into his restaurant on the sleepy eastern end of Devon Avenue's Indo-Pak strip. The room is crammed with elaborately carved and painted tables and high-backed chairs, and the walls are bedecked with Pakistani handicrafts Khawaja traveled the homeland to procure. Khawaja, who owns another restaurant in Los Angeles, grills zabiha halal meats, and he's not afraid to see what sort of guts you're made of. Intestinal armor comes in a bowl of raita and (in an odd nod to an altogether different cuisine) a velvety egg-drop soup, meant to be spiked with abundant bottles of soy and Louisiana hot sauces. The standards—lamb, goat, beef, chicken, and seafood—are aggressively seasoned and marinated, grilled or stewed, then served beside a pile of rice to stanch the flames; critters found less frequently on Devon include yogurt-marinated quail and veal steaks. There are only a few concessions to plant eaters—dal, okra, mixed vegetables, and a buttery and luscious pureed rapini. —Mike Sula

Curry Hut410 Sheridan, Highwood | 847-432-2889

$$Indian/Pakistani | lunch, Dinner: seven days

At Curry Hut, in addition to Indian dishes, Nepalese appetizers and entrees are available, many featuring chicken or goat. Showing the influence of China, Nepal's northern neighbor, momo is a platter of dim sum-like minced chicken dumplings with achaar, a tart pickle sauce of lime and turmeric. Chicken wings—marinated, steamed, and grilled—are extraordinarily scrumptious, moist yet crunchy. Chhoela is boneless goat, boiled to extract residual funk and baked in a clay pot, yielding a most refined version of this animal. Vegetarian and meat "special dinners" are meant for sharing, the former featuring preparations like lightly spiced spinach and lentils, the latter more chicken and goat and aloo tama bodi, a subtly spiced combo of black-eyed peas and bamboo shoots. Unsurprisingly, curries predominate, as do meats baked in the tandoor, and although the menu skews toward northern India, there's abundant seafood. —David Hammond

Ghareeb Nawaz2032 W. Devon | 773-761-5300

$Indian/Pakistani | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 2 | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Named for a benefactor of the poor, Ghareeb Nawaz has a reputation as an oasis for cheap and freshly made home-style Indo-Pakistani food. One of the few spots on Devon open for breakfast, it offers inexpensive paratha (griddled wheat flatbread) filled with egg or aloo (seasoned potato) and halwa puri, the traditional Pakistani breakfast, three crisp, puffy fried breads served with lightly sweetened sooji halwa (a semolina pudding) and aloo chole (curried potato and chickpeas); for $3, it beats the hell out of McStyrofoam. Biryanis here are among the best in town, and the thali is an amazing deal: $4 gets you a veggie combo with a choice of bread (chapati, paratha, or naan), a generous portion of rice, an achar (pickle) of some kind, and servings of four or five dishes such as chana masala, dal, aloo palak, and bhindi masala; meat thali are just a buck more. Veggie kebabs are deliciously dense disks of potato, chickpeas, egg, and spices, though the beef shish kebab suffers from too much filler. Samosas, meat- or potato-filled triangles of pure snacking pleasure, are, at 50 cents each, an addiction I'm prepared to indulge. —Gary Wiviott

Hema's Kitchen2439 W. Devon | 773-338-1627

F 7.6 | S 5.5 | A 5.0 | $ (12 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Every night till 11 | BYO

For years Hema's Kitchen, Hema Potla's homey Indian restaurant, drew flocks of fans to a tiny, cramped storefront where food was often hustled out of the kitchen by the beaming proprietor herself. But after rave reviews on Check, Please! transformed the crowd to a mob, she expanded, first with an adjacent dining room and then with a second location in Lincoln Park. Now the original spot is shuttered and she's gone upscale, around the corner, in full Devon Avenue style. Gone are the open kitchen and the corner playpen that once housed a small child or two. Instead tables in a spacious, gleaming dining room are loaded with wineglasses and white tablecloths, plastic flowers and laminated numbers. I'd be lying if I said the new space has the raw charm of the old, but the food is as solid and satisfying as ever. Flaky lamb samosas were lightly seasoned and piping hot, though lacking the peas alluded to on the menu. Veggie dishes like aloo baigan matar—eggplant, potatoes, and peas in a tomato-coconut sauce heavily stocked with aromatic curry leaves—imparted a powerful burn, and chicken vindaloo, while heavy on the ghee, evinced an equally bold hand with the red chiles and curry leaves. The happy addition of a tandoor oven means the kitchen now turns out tender tandoori chicken and chewy naan as well. Bear in mind that it's still BYOB and the closest liquor store has a selection best described as bottom-shelf. —Martha Bayne

Hyderabad House2225 W. Devon | 773-381-1230

$$Indian/Pakistani | Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: 24 hours every day | Reservations not accepted | Cash only

Hyderabad House is a home away from home for cabbies who want to shoot pool, watch Bollywood musicals, and grab some good grub before beating it back to the beaded seat. Even if you don't drive for hire you'll enjoy the subcontinental food prepared for hard-to-con customers. Here are some savory creatures, all halal: lush mutton in a thick sauce is frequently seen on the changing menu board, as is chicken lagan in a fluorescent magenta-colored sauce. Dhai ki kadi, a delicious veggie dish, is wheat gluten in a blindingly yellow curry. Along with generous helpings of fresh griddled naan you get a lot of rice here, and that's a good thing—sops are essential with the tongue-tickling sauces. Sometimes there's a man offering paan—a potent mix of fennel, betel leaf, and herbs—which makes a pleasing, stomach-settling wrap to a meal. HH shares a parking lot with an auto repair shop, so you have to weave your way around the beaters to get to the front door; once inside, though, you'll find good-hearted folks and worthy south Indian chow. —David Hammond

India House59 W. Grand | 312-645-9500

F 7.6 | S 6.4 | A 6.6 | $$$ (10 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

Tuxedoed waiters hustle around this large room appointed with art and a wall lined with wine; still, India House is more sow's ear than silk purse. After a work party at the ho-hum lunch buffet I wasn't expecting much from this satellite of a restaurant and banquet hall in Schaumburg, but I did have hopes of receiving the Bombay Sapphire martini I ordered. What I got instead was a slug of room-temperature gin served in a tumbler bedecked with a wan slice of lime—and I paid $9.95 for it. The food was unredeeming: naan lacked the grilled-to-order freshness you'd get in a cabbie joint; aloo chat was so bland not even liberal doses of mint-cilantro chutney and sour pickle could revive it. Special meals come with a choice of soup or salad; best to go with the former unless you care for bottled French dressing. Somewhat overwhelmed by the enormous menu—there are more than 170 offerings, and one imagines at least half of them languishing in an enormous kitchen steam table—I rather boringly ordered a tikka combination of salmon and chicken. The sizzling platter was delivered with a flourish, but both meat and fish were dry, and the mutter paneer that came as part of the deal was made with mushy gray peas. I'll stick to Devon. —Kate Schmidt

Jaipur847 W. Randolph | 312-526-3655

$$Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Closed Sunday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

If you want to have the Devon Avenue Indian experience right on Randolph Row—and are willing to pay $3 to $4 more per entree for it—head to Jaipur. Everything from the red-heavy decor to the medium-size menu is traditional at this newcomer. Our meal began with free papadum, and from the limited appetizer lineup we enjoyed crisp pea-and-potato-stuffed samosas and aloo papdi chaat, a typical snack of chickpeas, potatoes, onions, and flour crisps sauced with spiced yogurt, tamarind, and mint chutney. But except for deftly seasoned saag paneer, spinach laced with cubes of firm cheese, our main courses were nothing to shout about. Tandoori chicken, served on a platter of sizzling onions and green peppers, paired a dry breast with a moister leg. The lamb in the vindaloo was well trimmed and reasonably tender, but the tomatoey sauce, while intricately spiced, seemed toned down for Western tastes. Shrimp masala, billed as "jumbo prawns, halved," turned out to be whole, tail-on, average-size shrimp, cooked a little too long and bathed in a creamy tomato sauce. Top-notch naan, puffy and hot from the tandoor, was the biggest hit. On the downside: spongy, overfried gulab jamun and a poorly trained server who couldn't tell us anything about the food and didn't bother to give us the drinks menu. —Anne Spiselman

Khyber Pass233 E. Wacker | 312-856-1810

$$$Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days

Named after the famous mountain passage connecting Pakistan and Afghanistan, Khyber Pass features the food of the Pathans, the region's nomadic settlers, and specializes in dumbuc (steaming) in addition to the more familiar tandoori cooking. That said, the menu and quality are fairly standard for Indian fare, with appetizers like samosas and kebabs, mango lassis (not too tangy but too much ice), and lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetable dishes. One standout, however, is the naan—there are about a dozen varieties, many of them stuffed with meats, vegetables, and cheeses. We tried a few and all were delicious, especially the moist and chewy onion kulcha. If you're hosting a family reunion, consider the Bakra-e-Khyber, a whole baby lamb that's marinated overnight then roasted. It serves 15-20 people and costs $275 (48-hour notice required). Perhaps not surprisingly, portions here are very generous, and the extensive lunch buffet seems to be a big draw. —Ryan Hubbard

Marigold4832 N. Broadway | 773-293-4653

F 9 | A 8.6 | S 8.6 (14 reports) | $$Indian/Pakistani | Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr This upscale Indian restaurant just up the block from the Green Mill is a stunner, a low-lit, jewel-toned space with impressive cuisine. The vegetarian dahi kebab salad was eye-opening: pristine microgreens paired with a warm, peppercorn-encrusted yogurt cheese in a garlicky orange-coriander vinaigrette and garnished with pistachio bits and slices of lush fig. Lamb vindaloo—a huge, meaty shank ("Here's your stegosaurus leg," said our server) that to my palate could have borne more spice—was the only plate that slightly disappointed, but a side of three fresh house-made chutneys made up for it, as did the dark horse of the meal, murg makhni, meltingly tender and perfectly spiced tandoori-cooked chicken in cream sauce. The restaurant has a friendly, neighborhood vibe: "Looks like we ordered the same things you did," a fellow at the adjoining banquette exclaimed to us. "How was it?" he asked. "Excellent, but here—you must try some of these chutneys." —Kate Schmidt

Radhuni Indian Kitchen3227 N. Clark | 773-404-5670

$$Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

All-you-can eat Indian lunchtime buffets aren't a good way to evaluate a kitchen's abilities, but on my first visit to Radhuni the genial but distracted host discouraged me from ordering any higher-ticket menu items. "Everything on menu, we have over there," he advised me, indicating a selection of eight items dwarfed by the menu's extensive list of northern Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi offerings. There was nothing you haven't seen before, and—feh—the chana masala was too salty, matter paneer tasted canned, the chicken curry and tikka masala were rubbery, and the samosas gluey. The baingan bharta, on the other hand, stood out, with a deep caramelized flavor. On a subsequent visit the malai kofta was mushy and oversweet, dal bharta was undercooked, and the beef nehari had none of the succulence you'd associate with such a comforting dish. I was unpleasantly unsurprised. —Mike Sula

Sabri Nehari2502 W. Devon | 773-465-0899

F 8.1 | S 6.7 | A 6.0 | $ (7 reports)Indian/Pakistani | Lunch, dinner: seven days | Open late: every night Till midnight

rrr Whether served atop fragrant rice or scooped up with lightly blistered naan or griddled whole-wheat paratha, nehari—drop-dead tender beef in a rich, velvety smooth gravy—is deserves its namesake status here. Marinated and grilled chicken boti, aggressively spiced frontier chicken, and ghee-enhanced butter chicken also tantalize with their lushness. Genial manager Hanif Lala suggests the pasanda kebab, described as beef marinated overnight and "masterfully agitated and barbecued over charcoal." Well-made vegetarian offerings include dal palak (lentils and spinach) and aloo palak (spinach and potatoes), though both are a bit heavy on the ghee. But good as the foregoing may be, what draws me back time after time is charga chicken, marinated, coated in chickpea flour seasoned with garam masala, deep-fried till crisp, then doused in a vinegary hot sauce, topped with cilantro, slivered ginger, and onions, and served in a tent of aluminum foil with a knife sticking out of it. Crunchy, juicy, hot, spicy—it's like a gigantic Punjabi buffalo wing. A word of advice: charga chicken takes about 35 minutes to prepare, so order it as you sit down. No alcohol's allowed, but lassi and mango shakes make refreshing accompaniments. —Gary Wiviott

Udupi Palace2543 W. Devon | 773-338-2152

F 8.6 | S 9.0 | A 7.3 | $ (6 reports)Indian/Pakistani, Vegetarian/Healthy | Lunch, dinner: seven days | BYO

rrr From the outside, Udupi Palace is bright, spacious, and friendly, which is why the famously bad service inside is so puzzling. Ignore it: you'll get your food soon enough and it'll make you happy. (And the service isn't always bad: on a recent visit, the waitstaff thoughtfully moved us and our dozen bottles of booze to a larger table.) Udupi's menu is all-vegetarian and south Indian. Dig deep into the appetizer menu: the chaat papri, fried dough dosed with yogurt and tamarind chutney, is addictive, and the vadas, or lentil doughnuts, are great doused with chutney or sambar. The paper masala dosai is three feet long, the wafer-thin dough rolled and filled with potatoes and onions. And remember those dozen bottles? Udupi is permanently BYO. —Nicholas Day

Veerasway844 W. Randolph | 312-491-0844

$$Indian/Pakistani, Small Plates | Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Thursday-Saturday till 11

Angela Hepler Lee, co-owner of Sushi Wabi and De Cero, has expanded her multiethnic Randolph Street miniempire with Veerasway, an airy storefront specializing in a mix of traditional Indian and Indo-American cuisine. Lots of light wood, curry-yellow and lentil-brown walls, and hanging glass lanterns set a modern tone, along with mood-mellowing cocktails (you'll need 'em—it's noisy) such as the Bengali tiger (vanilla-bean-infused vodka, green and black cardamom, tamarind-date puree, ghost peppers, and pineapple) that go well with the free pappadam chips and three accompanying dips. Appetizers "from the streets" include vegetarian samosas and stuffed banana peppers—basically spicy Indian chiles rellenos, filled with lentils and paneer, fried in chickpea batter, and served with coriander chutney. My favorite dish was a salad, or actually two salads: shredded green papaya laced with toasted peanuts and grape tomatoes side by side with ripe mango slices tossed with puffed rice, chopped tomato, and a few golden raisins, both in tamarind-lime dressing. The contrast of flavors and textures was terrific. One of the traditional meat and vegetarian choices I tried, moist chicken tikka in a complex tomato cream sauce, was solid if unexceptional, but it surpassed the surprisingly dull Indo-American coconut scallops, an overcooked trio (one of which was undersize) in individual pools of coconut milk. An a la carte side of sauteed spinach, mustard greens, and fingerling potatoes with garlic and onions was so jarringly tart it clashed with everything else. Decent naan and a milk-shake-thick coconut-mango lassi rounded out the meal; moist chocolate cake with chile-dusted cashew brittle and coconut sorbet ended it on a high note. —Anne Spiselman

Add a comment