Having moved to the Northwest suburbs of Boston in mid-2007, I hope and expect to provide some fresh restaurant reviews of places I discover close to my new home.
1717 Middlesex St., Lowell MA, 978-654-6653
We are new to the Village at Stone Ridge in Westford, MA and have begun exploring the nearby restaurants. We discovered a sister restaurant to one we knew and loved in Ashland, which has subsequently moved to Shrewsbury, and this is Udupi Bhavan. It is in Lowell at 1717 Middlesex St.; the fare is all-vegetarian and the preparations are from the South of India. The quality of the food is superb, and based on the one meal we had thus far and our memories of the Ashland place, we can highly recommend eating there.
Nearly all of the Indian restaurants in New England present the foods of Northern India and generally include various meats other than pork. The closest such restaurant is Goa Cafe, in Westford's Westford Plaza on Route 110 across from the Market Basket. In contrast, the selection at Udupi Bhavan is rather different. It serves some items you also find in a Northern Indian restaurant, but the majority of the dishes are specific to the Udupi region of India. The quality of the food at this restaurant is considerably higher than in the other Indian restaurants of which we are aware. The only exception is to the long-gone Pondicherry, which had been on Boylston St. in Boston many years ago.
Look up "Udupi cuisine" in Wikipedia, where you will be told it takes its name from a city on the Southwest coast of India. "Udupi cuisine comprises dishes made primarily from grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits." It may also be spelled "Udipi". It appears there are very few such restaurants in the United States.
According to one reviewer covering the Ashland place, "most Indian restaurants in America offer their dishes with a slight adjustment to the English palate; however, Udupi Bhavan has not done this, and this is what gives such special value to this restaurant. Despite its authenticity, the untrained palate will easily find a wide variety of entrees to choose from."
We recommend ordering as we did, except for the soup, in order to sample a wide selection of dishes. This can be done by ordering thali dinners - there are two different ones, which have most included dishes in common, but there are some differences. A thali is a platter typically made of stainless steel on which stainless bowls with different ingredients are served. The two dinners we ordered included a larger bowl of basmati rice, two kinds of breads (papadum and roti), and nine little bowls. One of these is rasam (a soup), another is a hot Indian pickle, one has plain but excellent yogurt, and there is a dessert too. The others provide a variety of ingredients and flavors. There were some lentil dishes and avial (potatoes, carrots, and green beans in a coconut sauce). We were told the dishes served in these thalis may vary according to the chef's choice. The two thalis we were served differed in two of the bowls. The items we were served on the less expensive ($11.50)
South Indian Thali were more interesting, but for another $2.50, 2 appetizers came with the Mysore Royal Thali - an excellent, above-average vegetable samosa ("crispy and flaky crust stuffed with potatoes and peas" and a delightful mixture of spices) and a vegetable cutlet ("minced vegetables with spices, crumbed and deep fried"). These were accompanied by an above-average and somewhat spicy mint chutney and a sweet tamarind sauce.
In addition to the thalis, we ordered a soup and an appetizer. This was a lot of food, but we were curious about the dishes. The Mulligatawny Soup was very different than what we get in Northern restaurants, and it was not good enough for me to want to order again. It was merely acceptable and not up to the quality of everything else we had. The appetizer was an excellent choice - #15, Dahi Aloo Poori ("a mouth-watering combination of assorted crisp potatoes and chick peas in yogurt and tamarind sauces").
In general, the level of spicy hotness was low in the food we ordered -- lower than is typical in a hot Mexican salsa. Only the pickle had a bit of a kick. Indian pickles are oily and salty and often based on vegetables or fruits, such as mangoes or limes. They do not resemble a European cucumber pickle.
The menu has many choices: 21 appetizers, 3 soups, 17 dosais, 9 uthappams (rice and lentil pancakes), 25 other main dishes including the thali dinners, 7 rice dishes, 7 breads, 8 side dishes, and 7 desserts. No alcohol is served, and whether you can bring your own was not evident.
Many diners order the dosais, which are "rice and lentil crepes" made from a variety of ingredients and also filled with various ingredients. If you want a place to start, go with #4, the Mysore Masala Dosai ("crepe with layer of hot chutney filled with potatoes and onions") or #14 Onion Rava Masala Dosai ("rice and cream of wheat crepe", grilled with onions, "filled with potatoes and onions"). We know these from the former Udupi Bhavan in Ashland.
The ethnicity of nearly all of the clientele appeared to be from the subcontinent, and many were dressed in traditional garb, but we Euopean stock Americans felt welcome. The decor is very plain. There is no background music. Service was congenial and sufficiently attentive, although we did not require help in ordering. Once the place thinned out towards the end of the evening, our waiter kindly marked up a menu for us with his choices of best or most popular dishes (we were unsure which), and we may as well share this with you:
The hours are Tue-Fri 11-3 for lunch (with a lunch menu of more than a dozen choices including a thali) and 5-9:30, Sat-Sun 11:30 - 9:30. Reservations are not taken. There can be a wait on the weekends -- we waited for about 30 minutes for a table for 2 on a Saturday around 8:30 p.m. Several of the tables consisted of families including young children. One of these had 14 people. They occupied about about one-quarter of the restaurant's capacity. If you don't like crowds, we understand you should go on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evening.
To get there from the Village at Stone Ridge in less than 15 minutes, turn left onto Tyngboro Rd. and head towards Route 3. At the second set of signals, turn right onto Dunstable Rd. Proceed into North Chelmsford Center, and as you drive through the center, follow the sign which says "To Route 110" towards Lowell, bearing left a fork. This is Middlesex St. After the signal at the Middlesex Plaza with a Market Basket, Udupi Bhavan is on the left, just past Pho Mi Mi. There is a sign, but the restaurant is not visible from the road. It is next to a Jiffy Lube and behind a Subway sandwich shop. Make a left turn just before the Jiffy Lube. Plentiful parking is in the rear, behind the Jiffy Lube. I believe the former Emerald Curry was at this location.
You can also get there from the Drum Hill Rotary. Take Drum Hill Rd. towards Lowell center. It becomes Westford St. and then Wood St., and this brings you to Middlesex St., at the corner with Middlesex Plaza and the Market Basket.