Here in the Bay Area, we appreciate our dosas. You can get them from a cart, from hole in the wall places crowded with families, and from an upscale restaurant beloved by locals as well as celebrities passing through town. It’s simple why the South Indian dish has become so popular. It’s alternately familiar-- “Just try it, it’s like a crepe/injera/pancake,” you might hear a desperate parent coax--while still foreign enough to be novel. After cooking, the batter, a fermented mix of rice and urud dal, becomes both crispy and chewy. It’s served plain and stuffed with a variety of fillings like vegetables and potatoes, making it satisfyingly hearty but lacking the carb overload of similar dishes. It typically comes with sauces and a side of sambar (a vegetable lentil soup). We’ve listed our five favorites in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Albany, but if we missed your favorite, let us know in the comments.
As you’d expect, the Keanu-approved Dosa--with locations on Fillmore and in the Mission--has an excellent array of dosas to choose from. You could have the lamb one. Or the spicy basil one. Truly, any of the dosas from chef Anjan Mitra would make an excellent meal. But for the peak Dosa experience, get the truffle dosa. It sounds like it might be terrible--when you can get truffle fries at McDonald’s or truffle almonds at Starbucks, is truffle still something to get excited about?--but ends up being an aggressively bold take on the traditional masala potato dosa. It’s huge, with shatteringly crispy edges contrasting with the chewy middle, and filled with mustard seed-flecked potatoes. The application of Italian truffle oil brings out the fermented funkiness of the dosa batter, and while you can definitely taste the truffle, it’s not overpowering. It’s rich, but not in the “doughnut hamburger” kind of way--instead it’s savory, creative and elegant.
995 Valencia St [Map]
San Francisco, CA 94110
Ph: (415) 642-3672
Hours: Mon-Fri, 5:30pm-11:30pm; Sat, 11am-3pm and 5:30pm-11pm; Sun, 11am-3pm and 5:30pm-10pm
Price range: $$-$$$ (Entrees $11-$24)
Udupi Palace, from Uday Shetty and chef Prince Baby, is a popular restaurant. It’s popular enough for two locations, in Berkeley and in San Francisco's Mission. It’s so popular that a random Thursday dinner at the San Francisco location required a shivering 20-minute wait outside the crowded restaurant. Once you’re finally in, you skirt groups of families and dates to pick something from the large menu, the bulk of which is made up of dosas and their thicker cousin Uthapam in flavors like spicy cauliflower and hot chili. Dosas are served on huge cafeteria style trays with built in sauce divots to hold the chutneys, which provide an ideal accompaniment to the comically large dosa, each half the size of a super burrito. A spinach and paneer dosa was a refreshing variation on that classic combination, with salty cheese mixing into a flavorful mess of spinach, mustard seeds and onions. It’s comforting, familiar and and rich enough to keep you warm as you trundle off into the 50-degree summer night.
Juhu Beach Club
The fusion-y dishes at the colorful, bustling Juhu Beach Club are the result of chef Preeti Mistry’s creative brain, a mix of traditional Indian benchmarks spiked with French, Bay Area and traditional-Americana touches. One of the dishes that best encapsulates Mistry’s approach is the fried chicken dosawaffle. There are a few dosawaffles on the menu, an inspired mashup of a traditional dosa and Belgian waffle (as they note, it’s a “gluten free diner’s delight”): one served with the traditional potatoes and sambar, and one slathered with Nutella and cardamom whipped cream. But the chicken and waffle version is the most ambitious. The light, crispy sourdough-ish waffle is topped with two gigantic pieces of fried chicken, spicy and tangy from a batter of yogurt, chickpea flour and spices like turmeric and curry powder. Each element, from the fiery maple syrup to the smear of black pepper butter, is well-thought-out, and increases the dish’s salty, sweet and spicy contrast.
Juhu Beach Club
5179 Telegraph Ave [Map]
Oakland, CA 94609
Ph: (510) 652-7350
Hours: Mon, closed; Tue-Thu, 5:30-9:30pm; Fri, 11:30am-2pm and 5:30-9:30pm; Sat, 11am-2pm and 5:30-9:30pm; Sun, 11am-2pm
Facebook: Juhu Beach Club
Price range: $$ (Entrees $11-$17)
Vik's Chaat & Market
Vik's Chaat, the cheery West Berkeley cafeteria-style Indian restaurant and grocery store from the Chopra family, is extremely beloved. It’s the kind of place that’s constantly crowded despite its unassuming warehouse location, with stern signs in nearby parking lots informing you that there is “No Vik’s Parking” (and there already is a dedicated lot for customers). Their menu is a large, welcoming collection of chaat classics, including dosas filled with potatoes, mung beans or vegetables. A masala dosa was perfectly crispy, without the midpoint gumminess that can afflict a lesser dosa, and filled with a bright yellow mash of potatoes and colorful vegetables like carrots and peas. It’s pleasantly, mildly spicy, accompanied by a collection of flavorful sauces and a side of hearty sambar.
Albany’s Hamro Aangan Indo-Nepalese is a pretty space, with exposed brick and a huge oil painting of Nepal. The restaurant, from chef and owner Bishnu Bhandari (a former manager at Vik’s Chaat) is a mix of Indian and Nepalese dishes, and they offer two types of dosas as well as Uttappam. A crispy paneer dosa was thankfully restrained, mixing a moderate amount of cheese in with large chunks of well-seasoned vegetables. You’re asked how spicy you want your dosa, but the sauces--a creamy coconut chutney and a scorching chili paste--allow you to ultimately control the spice level, with just a dab of the chili sauce enlivening the dish. A wonderfully earthy sambar was a worthy accompaniment.