Roscoe Village is a great place to skip around, but sometimes I need a full-on switch. When that mood hits, the madness of Devon Avenue is the perfect place for me. I love the scents of charred, cracklin' meat; the rumbles of Indian tunes; and the loud colors of saris on parade.
Getting there isn't a problem, but deciding which restaurant to hit up sure is. They all look good and smell even better. There are traditional all-you-can-eat buffets for less than $10 to consider, but then there's also the delicious chaat houses doling out Indian-style tapas on every corner. The eatery that always catches my eye, however, is the Indian/Pakistani Ravi Kabab House, 2447 W. Devon Ave., with its giant glazed and smudged over front window. I love it because you can peer into the open kitchen and see what's being whipped up every time a new order is place.
Any time I walk by, there are a slew of grinning chefs in the hectic kitchen, maneuvering around each other like players in a very well executed chess game. You can witness them chopping up beef and vegetables, flipping rice on the grill, hand-forming juicy kebabs and gently pulling loads of bursting-at-the-seams naan out of the smoking hot tandoor oven.
Lisa and I plowed in just before the dinner rush and had our choice of tables. They were all empty, which is just the way we like it. That way, all the focus is on our bounty and us solely, with no distractions from other hungry customers.
After we sat down, the menu was grandly presented by the friendly waiter; it was loaded with color photos, which makes choosing a meal quite difficult. For a coupled of starving girls, all those pictures were pure temptation. Lisa was eyeing the butter chicken cooked in a clay oven, but in the end it the carbs took over.
To the delight of the entire staff (why were they so excited?), we ended up ordering a sheesh kebab naan, a huge bowl of channa masala (a Pakistani chickpea specialty), a griddle-fried disc of buttery whole wheat paratha bread and a piping hot pile of steamed basmati rice.
After a short wait, the sound of squeaking wheels caused us to turn. There was our waiter, wheeling over our platters of food. He was so happy to present us with each dish, proudly laying each plate down on the table and describing everything in detail. He had barely pushed off from the table before we ripped into the heavy hunk of paratha bread. I dunked each buttery tear into the jalapeno-heavy chickpeas, doused the entire bite in sweet tamarind sauce then covered it in herb-flecked yogurt dip. Add in a bite of sweet rice and I tasted nothing but pure Indian comfort food.
The extra large sheesh kabab was rolled in foil; when unfurled, the sliver of meat and sprinkle of vegetables came spilling out of just-cooked naan. We were both surprised at our first bite of meat, which tasted like it had been creamed and pounded with a hammer for hours.
When we finally finished the filling meal and sloshed to the door with poking-out bellies, the cooks asked if we enjoyed our dinner. Like a happy mom-to-be, I just pointed at my round tummy and laughed, "What do you think, boys?"
The Final Rave: For a 101 in Indo/Pak cooking techniques, just plop right at the front window of this eatery. Toothy smiles and happy-as-a-clam cooks included.
Keep It Going:
Do it: The Wooden Spoon
This adorable shop offers an Indian grilling course on August 24. Learn to make tandoori shrimp with saffron rice and gingered chicken kebobs just in time for the next summer heat wave.
Read it: The Everything Indian Cookbook
With this easy-on-the-skills cookbook in your kitchen, there won't be an Indian specialty you can't master.
Eat it: Shan Food Restaurant
I've raved about it before and I still can't get enough of the hearty (and cheap) food at this tiny restaurant tucked into the back of a mini-mart.
Get crazy with it: Gaylord India Restaurant
The masses go nuts for the buffet at this all-you-can-stuffit-buffit. Be prepared to sport the Buddha belly like me, though.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.