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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Streets of India Cafe
R: Streets of India Café transports the unique delicacies of Punjabi street cuisine to Valley diners seeking vegetarian and vegan Indian foods with a true homemade touch. Those with an adventurous palate will discover flavor infused delights like Panipuri, Papri Chaat, or Maki Ki Roti, each one a delicious, homestyle taste of Punjab.

Z: Owner Shashi Sood recalled his favorite memories of food sellers hawking their specialties in Amritsar, his home city in the Punjab state of Northern India. Though there were no actual restaurants where he lived, the neighborhood was teeming with specialty shops, one preparing only kulchas, while others specialized in saag makki ki roti or panipuri. These are the beloved foods the Streets of India Cafe recreates in its new home on the corner of Ventura Boulevard and Libbett Avenue in Encino.

Streets of India Cafe R: The Sood family, husband Shashi, wife Sapna, and daughter Shivani blend their culinary talents with a pinch of special India passion to offer tasty delicacies from both northern and southern regions of the country. Valleyites seeking Indian foods with a broader range of vegan dishes will find many refreshingly novel appetite pleasers here.

Z: Adjacent to the order counter a free-standing white board lists multiple daily specials in addition to the daily lunch special and regular items on the menu board behind the counter. Southern Indian dishes included Dosas, Uttapam, and Vada Sambhar.

R: We chose a first course of Bhelpuri, listed on the menu as a crunchy salad. We soon encountered a bowl of unfamiliar crunchy morsels and tidbits that bore absolutely no resemblance to salad, as we know it. Yet, this crispy mélange of bits and twigs was bursting with sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors and delightful textures.

Z: Typical of Indian street food that can vary somewhat with each cook, this Bhelpuri consists of toasted puffed rice, besan twigs that are made of chickpea flour, crushed papadams, chopped onions, potato chunks, crushed peanuts, and chiles. This mixture is then well seasoned with a combination of chutneys and then blended together. We loved it and will probably be bhelpuri fans forever.

R: To provide their patrons with heartier veg offerings, they feature a generous variety of dishes made with mock meat, fish, shrimp, or chicken in exceptionally tasty sauces. On this visit we ordered Kerala Fish Curry made with large chunks of mock fish in a killer coconut curry sauce I couldn't stop spooning over my brown rice.

Z: In a desire to share one of his favorite dishes, Shashi headed for the kitchen and within minutes we were spooning his delicious Channa Dal over our brown rice. Made with onions, garlic, chili, garam masala, turmeric, and tomato, their Channa Dal is a rich blend of spices combined with chickpeas, a favorite legume of Indian cuisine.

Streets of India Cafe R: Our friend, Chuck, tagged along to indulge his love for this cuisine and was impressed with the Saag with Maki Ki Roti, one of those street specialties not found on most local Indian restaurant menus. Saag is a familiar saucy spinach dish, but this saag was made with spinach plus mustard greens, broccoli, turnip greens, and rapini, all tastefully spiced. Accompanying the Saag was Maki Ki Roti, a dense, golden flatbread made from coarse cornmeal and served hot off the griddle. Soon we were heaping spoonfuls of the saag over pieces of roti and savoring each bite with the gusto of Indian villagers.

Z: Reuben is very fond of okra and frequently orders it when available. Street's Okra Masala scored far above the rest because of its large, very moist, and divinely tender fingers of okra skillfully sautˇed with sliced onions, tomatoes, garlic, and red onions. Soooo delicious!

R: I confess, it went down so easy, there was not even a spoonful left to take home. On our first visit we ordered Jackfruit Curry and thought we had never tasted anything better. From its tender succulent texture to the savory sauce featuring cashews and coconut paste that engulfed it, Jackfruit Curry was a winning dish.

Streets of India Cafe Z: It often surprises us that chefs can take foods considered rather humble fare and elevate them effortlessly into mouth-watering dishes. With Indian cuisine, the technique seemingly employs innovative magic and a practiced hand at blending herbs and spices. The Sood family's kitchen sorcery is clearly displayed in each tasty creation.

R: Patrons will appreciate the pleasant dining area with soft lighting and comfortable banquettes across the long wall. Separated from the order counter, the room is painted in warm shades of pumpkin and avocado, while tables and chairs offer strong black accents. During warm weather, diners can enjoy outdoor seating on the roomy patio facing Ventura Boulevard.

Z: While waiting for our orders, we were offered complimentary Indian chai, but we passed because it contained milk. Eager to please, Shashi is working on creating non-dairy versions of many of their menu items to expand their vegan options, including desserts. The family is very cordial, greets everyone with a smile, and makes customers feel welcome and comfortable.

Streets of India Cafe R: In addition to its downright delicious foods and comfortable ambience, Streets of India Café offers good visibility from the street and an ample parking garage in the rear. Its all vegetarian and vegan menu changes daily with specials galore, while well-loved favorites remain a staple of the cafe.

Z: Dining at Streets, patrons will find good value for their money. Prices are very reasonable with Snacks and Appetizers at $4, Combo meals (Thali) $7.95, a La Carte items range from $6 to $8, Chef's Specials are $5 to $8, Sides, Flat Breads, and Desserts run from $1 to $4.

Streets of India Café
16260 Ventura Blvd., Encino, CA 91436
Phone: 818-325-2500
Hours: Daily 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Reviewed March 2011

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