Devon Street Dining 

Arya Bhavan, Hyderabad House, Mysore Woodlands, and more

Usmania

Usmania

Arya Bhavan

2508 W. Devon | 773-274-5800

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI, VEGETARIAN/HEALTHY | LUNCH: SUNDAY, TUESDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

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 Sheth. 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, and on Monday nights there's a raw food buffet. —Cara Jepsen

Chopal Kabab and Steak

2242 W. Devon | 773-338-4080

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS  | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL 11:30

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 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. Khawaja named the place Chopal, which means "gathering place," and it's hard to discount his enthusiasm for the venture's party potential when he sits you down on the large woven bench in the front window. There's a $4.99 lunch special. —Mike Sula

Ghareeb Nawaz

2032 W. Devon | 773-761-5300

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | BREAKFAST, LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: 24 hours every day | 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. You order at the counter here, and the restaurant's two brightly lit rooms are spartan, but there's cricket on the TV in season and a prayer room for the devout. —Gary Wiviott

Hema's Kitchen

2439 W. Devon | 773-338-1627

$$

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. (That last may account for service that's stunningly better than the old Hema's glacial norm.) 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 (no corkage fee) and the closest liquor store has a selection best described as bottom-shelf. —Martha Bayne

Hyderabad House

2225 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 never-been-pimped beaters to get to the front door; once inside, though, you'll find good-hearted folks and worthy south Indian chow. —David Hammond

Khan BBQ

2401 W. Devon | 773-274-8600

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS  | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY TILL 2, OTHER NIGHTS TILL 11

After a devastating fire in 2006, fans of Khan B.B.Q. heaved a collective sigh of relief when it reopened a few blocks west with an open kitchen, well-spaced, comfortable seating, and, courtesy of the previous occupant, a multitiered crystal chandelier. The chicken boti remains essential: chunks of tender, moist chicken lightly charred in a charcoal-fired tandoor and seasoned with cilantro and chile, delicious scooped up with a bit of onion naan and a drizzle of raita. Yes, Khan is back, as good as ever. There's a full range of Indo-Pak offerings, from tandoori chicken to a flavorful lamb shish kebab. Buttery, clove-scented white rice is the perfect accompaniment to saucy dishes such as palak gosht (spinach with goat), dal palak (spiced lentils with spinach), and chana masala. Biryani is always a good choice, especially one with mutton, though if you're burdened with a foggy head from the previous night, frontier chicken, spicy and slightly oily, will cure what ails you. Small plates of cucumber, shredded lettuce, and raita are on each table; a hard-won lesson is that the trick to getting fresh sliced jalapeño is to ask for green pepper. —Gary Wiviott

Mysore Woodlands

2548 W. Devon | 773-338-8160

$$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI, VEGETARIAN/HEALTHY | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO | RESERVATIONS FOR LARGE GROUPS ONLY

At Mysore Woodlands, which is named after well-known restaurants in India, there are no fewer than 14 types of the house specialty, dosa (thin, light rice crepes), including a masala dosa, stuffed with potatoes, onions, and spicy chutney, and a massive paper dosa. Other specialties such as pongal, a sweet rice dish, and uppuma (savory cream of wheat with nuts and vegetables) are right on the money. But the best deal is the Mysore Royal Thali, a complete meal served on a large round stainless steel platter dominated by a pile of aromatic basmati rice, the staple of south Indian cuisine. The accompanying army of small dishes includes dal, sambar, vegetable curries, spicy pickled mango or lime, dessert, pappadam, chappati, and thick, creamy curd, which is traditionally eaten last. The dinner portion comes with soup (try the spicy lentil mulligatawny) and a trio of deep-fried appetizers. The Woodland's signature dessert is paysam, a comforting pudding made of vermicelli noodles, milk , honey, raisins, and cashews; there are also spicy masala chai and creamy Mysore-style coffee for after the meal. —Cara Jepsen

Sabri Nihari

2502 W. Devon | 773-465-0899

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT TILL MIDNIGHT

Whether served atop fragrant rice or scooped up with lightly blistered naan or griddled whole-wheat paratha, nihari—drop-dead tender beef in a rich, velvety smooth gravy—is fully deserving of 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 trying the pasanda kebab, described on the menu 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. One word of advice: charga chicken takes about 35 minutes to prepare, so order it as you are seated. No alcohol allowed, but lassi and mango shakes make refreshing accompaniments. —Gary Wiviott

Tiffin

2536 W. Devon | 773-338-2143

$$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS

Tiffin is cleaner and more refined than many of its neighbors on Devon. Service is a little more attentive, and the dining room is spacious and attractive, with wood-paneled walls and windows onto the kitchen. Tandoori menu selections such as chicken and lamb are tops. The $9.95 lunch buffet ($10.95 on weekends) maintains high quality with frequent hot refills. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Udupi Palace

2543 W. Devon | 773-338-2152

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI, VEGETARIAN/HEALTHY | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

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 could double as plumbing pipe: three feet long, the wafer-thin dough is rolled and filled with potatoes and onions. And remember those dozen bottles? Udupi is permanently BYO: bring a good wheat beer or a sparkling wine. —Nicholas Day

Uru-Swati

2629 W. Devon | 773-262-5280

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY

With a coffeehouse look that's hipper than the usual Devon Avenue banquet hall decor and brightly spiced, fresh-tasting food, Uru-Swati was my pick for best vegetarian restaurant in the Reader's Best of Chicago 2008. Fried items like samosas and pakoras as well as the extensive array of chaat (snacks) like bhel puri are lighter and less greasy than at most Indian spots. Vegetable curries are hearty, and even better if you solicit the staff's advice about pairing them with particular breads—try the cheese-and-pea paneer bhurji with the fiery vegetable uttapam, dotted with tiny diced chiles, and order a fresh lime soda to cool the heat. The only problem seems to be persistent doubt on the part of staff that non-South Asians will really want food as hot and authentic as they enjoy it themselves; talk your way past that and whether or not you leave healed, as the new-agey slogan ("Healing through food") promises, you'll certainly leave well fed. —Michael Gebert

Usmania

2244 W. Devon | 773-262-1900

$

INDIAN/PAKISTANI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS  | OPEN LATE: EVERY NIGHT till midnight

Looking to reinvent Usmania as a place for Pakistani fine dining, the owners shuttered the divey former location and moved across the street into new digs with exposed brick columns and copper bas-relief.The leather-bound Indo-Pakistani menu features the standard offerings, but the execution far surpasses standard issue. The meats in the creamy butter chicken and mutton biryani were unexpectedly tender and moist; the beef boti, a dish often served at weddings and other celebrations, was like a better, bolder version of gyros; the spicy chana dal was a clear standout. Breads—we tried the naan and an onion kulcha—were the only disappointment. Where were the third-degree char burns one comes to expect? —Kristina Meyer

Please submit new listings or updates (include phone numbers) to restaurants@chicagoreader.com or Restaurant Listings, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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