Hema Potla's homey Indian restaurant.

Our Review

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

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