10736 W. Bellfort - CLOSED
I first reported on this place several months ago, shortly after it opened as primarily a sweets and snacks shop. It's undergone some big changes recently and now offers a menu of vegetarian dishes everyday plus some specials and I thought it was worthy of an updated report.
The restaurant is co-owned with Salaam Namaste next door; a door connects the two but they maintain totally separate kitchens, both 100% Halal with Sweet n Namkin also being 100% vegetarian. The two kitchens are to assure that there is no 'hocus-pocus' about vegetarian dishes being prepared in a kitchen that also prepares meat dishes, I was told. It is okay for customers to take food from one side to the other, however, to eat with friends.
There is a menu of about a dozen vegetarian offerings every day now plus specials four days a week. On Wednesday, the special is Biryani, on Saturday, a Gujarati thali, pictured above, and on Sunday Halwa Puri. I think the other special is either Thursday or Friday but I can't remember what it is.
I know of only one other restaurant in Houston offering Gujarati dishes, Bhojan on the SW Freeway; I haven't been there in over a year now but I have had excellent food there. They ply you with a very good buffet and an endless supply of fresh, hot roti. Here, the special is a fixed thali consisting of a yogurt curry, warm and spicy with green onion and cilantro, an eggplant curry (brinjal) on the left, even spicier, and a third curry in the background with squash (zucchini) and split yellow peas that I could identify; this one was not as spicy as the eggplant (these components may vary). Besides the rice and onions, there is a warm, fresh, melt in your mouth pappadum and two fresh warm chapatis in the background (both this place and the one next door just refer to chapatis as tortillas in explaining them but they do make their own on premises). There is a wedge of lime and a piece of Laddu, a sweet. Lurking behind the onions is a pickle that I didn't get the name of and could only identify one ingredient, a 1" long, 1/2" wide piece of ginger root. I understand this is to be added to the other dishes as the diner sees fit but I sampled it but didn't use it.
This was excellent and much spicier than anything I've had at Bhojan. I've been asked regularly whether I wanted something spicy or medium but I can't remember if I was given that option on this dish.
This was more than enough to fill me up but I also had a watermelon lassi. The lassi here are thin, closer in thickness to an aguafresca than a milk shake. I can appreciate both this and the very thick ones like the ones I had at Bhojan which practically require a spoon; this one was tasty and thirst quenching without being so filling.
The vegetable biryani was a beautifully colorful and aromatic dish with long grain rice, peas, green beans, tomato, corn, potato, shredded carrot, and cauliflower plus whole clove and cardamom, pieces of cinnamon and some apricot to add a little sweetness, plus other spices including chile powder. As with the thali, this came with a cup of slivered onions on the side.
Several items are offered here that are also offered at Bansuri, the famous Indian food truck around the corner. I had never had the Dahi Puri at Bansuri or anywhere so this is the first time I tried this dish and I loved it. The thin mini-puri shells are filled with chickpeas, a creamy, whipped yogurt, sweet and spicy chutneys, and topped with a generous heap of sev, the little fried noodles. I got it spicy and my mouth was happy for minutes after finishing it off. These things are as much fun as a loaded ice cream sundae with its contrasting flavors and textures of the ice creams, fruits and nuts and syrups. In this case, it's the creamy yogurt, the slightly firm, slightly chewy, slightly salty chickpeas, the sweet date/tamarind chutney and spicier cilantro/jalapeno (you can see them through the thin puri shells) and the crunchy sev. You're supposed to put a whole one in your mouth but I found them a little large for that and, anyway, I liked the process of biting into one, letting it begin to drip and ooze, and then putting the rest in my mouth. I used the spoon to finish off the Yogurt Chutney Noodle soup that covered the bottom of the plate when I was finished and I did go through a heap of the flimsy napkins.
I had a salt lassi with cumin with this, only a little salty but with about two tablespoons of cumin seeds; again, very refreshing and thirst quenching without being that filling.
This place subscribes to the Little Bigs philosophy of sliders - sliders are mini-sandwiches in theory only. These Dabeli were much heftier than the ones at Bansuri and were very good. The patty, mostly potato with some onion, achieved that color by the incorporation of all the spices including red and green chile powders, cilantro, cumin, and others and perhaps also the chutneys - it wasn't clear that there had been any chutneys applied to the buns. The nuts looked like almonds but didn't taste like almonds to me; I was told they were hazelnuts. There was a generous number of nuts in each sandwich and there were also like-sized pieces of potato and onion in the patties.
These were very tasty (and spicy, per request) but unfortunately they use store-bought large dinner rolls and they were a little dry and very bready; I also would have liked a little more crunchy sev under the hood.
There is a variety of ready to eat pakora every day including potato, spinach, onion, jalapeno strips and whole jalapeno, plus samosas and a puri that I think is a Choley Puri. The whole jalapeno pakora is only partially seeded and deveined and has chat masala added for heat, the jalapeno strips, I believe, are seeded and deveined. I've liked them all but they are not crispy. These come with the tamarind chutney with date and a cilantro/jalapeno chutney.
As detailed before, there are also shakes, lassi, fruit juices and fruit cups, plus kulfi and falooda. (My earlier report on Sweet n Namkin is here).
I think this place is a real neighborhood gem. The young woman who runs the front of the house is always so cheerful and pleasant and helpful and a pleasure to deal with. She keeps insisting I have to try the Halwa Puri, a traditional Pakistani Sunday breakfast, served all day, so I'll have to go in to try that sometime.
They are currently open from 3pm to 11pm, Tuesday thru Friday, until Midnight on Saturday , and 10am to 10pm on Sunday. I'm hoping they will expand the hours to include weekday lunches. Salaam Namaste, next door, is open much longer hours.