Ripping through dosas in the District:
PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES
Pioneer Boulevard stutters to a stop only a block or two past South Street, the Sunday traffic tangled together in a clog of cars so dense it’s impossible to angle your way out. On Artesia’s side streets, more cars spill from parking structures meant for only the most compact among us. Even the sidewalks are stuffed—it takes a couple contortions just to break through the first few feet of people. Supermarket doors are frozen open from the flood of customers; smoke twists its way up from cramped outdoor grills. And down in the distance is a corner lit up in a rotating rainbow gradient, teasing out multicolored memories of those prismed pylons outside LAX. But at Udupi Palace, a South Indian anchor in Little India’s ever-expanding center, things are as peaceful as ever.
Even on the busiest weekends, it’s comparatively quiet inside Udupi Palace. Much of this serenity seems derived from the restaurant’s organization: Every employee is outfitted in a maroon polo for instant identification; the menu takes care to explain dishes with ample descriptions. There’s not much to be confused about here, which makes Udupi Palace nowhere near as hectic as some of the neighboring sweets and snacks shops. But the ease of eating also stems from the fact that Udupi Palace has been here for a while, a stable vegetarian restaurant familiar even to those who find Indian food impenetrable.
If you do happen to harbor some uncertainty when it comes to Udupi Palace’s menu, simplify things by ordering a thali, a combination plate that pairs up most of the restaurant’s regional standards. Take the South Indian thali, for example, which includes rasam (a varying South Indian soup based on everything from tamarind to tomato), sambar (a chowder-like mix of chopped vegetables), daal (a split-bean stew), rice, chappati (a soft flatbread staple), raita (a yogurt-based cucumber dip), papad (a crisp, cracker-like flatbread) and payasam (a coconut rice noodle pudding). Together it all makes for a liquid-heavy meal, but take enough time with each component (making sure to swipe through some flatbread), and every one of the thali’s stuffed metal cups will reveal a certain charm, from the complex spices of the sambar, to the saffron and cardamom cues of the payasam.
For slightly smaller appetites, there’s the Udupi Palace special, which focuses first on idli (a puck-sized cake of steamed rice and lentils) and medhu vada (a fried savory doughnut hole of essentially the same origin), both of which pair perfectly with accompanying chutneys. Still, the central item to the special is the dosa, a huge crepe-like cylinder rolled out of lentils. The most essential is the masala dosa, which is stuffed with potatoes, onions and peas. There are other flavorful finds, but an interesting variation is the rava dosa, made out of wheat and rice flour for a soft, uneven shell that’s shot through with the same sort of porous holes as a sponge.
Though most diners would be fine to stick with the restaurant’s pre-made combinations, there are plenty of ways to build your own meals here. To cool down, order the bagala bhath, yogurt rice studded with mustard seeds and cucumber. Or, break out of the usual curried confines with bhindi masala, a more unusual mix of okra and curry, and kadi, onion fritters dropped in a light yogurt curry.
Try and sift through all of Udupi Palace’s single-serving plates, and the restaurant will likely turn into a habitual trip, a place always offering new tastes and textures. And if you do manage to complete the almost otherworldly task of eating through the whole menu, you can keep stopping in for just a small snack, too—even with all the other options just a few swarming steps away, you never have to surrender your allegiance to Udupi Palace.
UDUPI PALACE 18635 PIONEER BLVD | ARTESIA 90701 | 562.860.1950 | UDUPIPALACE.NET | OPEN TUES-SUN 11:30AM-9:45PM | FOOD FOR TWO $15-30