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Over the past couple of months, Chili's Deli, the convenience store-cum-restaurant on 50th St. and University, has become one of my favorite lunch stops on days off. Not for its dosas, or rice-and-lentil crepes, which can be oily and thick (properly paper-thin dosas can be found at Curry Leaf or Spice Route in Bellevue). Nor for its uttapams, iddlies, or vadas. No, you have to get one of the lunch combos.

This vegetarian lunch plate, for example, comes from a week or so ago. A giant mound of rice, bejeweled with a dab of the cook's fantastic lemon pickle, is surrounded by a roti, some moong beans dry-fried with coconut, chana (chickpea) dal, and potato sticks coated in spices and fried. In the back is the critical element: a bowl of sambar, a soupy dal seasoned heavily with mustard seed and curry leaves. If the meal seems dry, that's because you're not pouring the sambar over the rice, and then stirring them together, spooning it up (or eating it with your fingers) with little bites of pickle or vegetables. Run out of the spice-dense sambar -- there's an 80 percent chance you will -- and the cook will bring you more. It's also chockablock with drumstick, which looks like celery but tastes like artichoke. The savory fruit breaks into thirds with the press of a spoon, and you scrape the soft flesh from the peel with your teeth.

If there's a reason to go to Saturday night movies at the Metro or for beers at The Ram, it's because the kitchen closes around 11 on weekend nights. In fact, the place can be packed up until closing time.

Chili's Deli, 5002 University Way N.E. 526-9392, Open Mon.-Sat. 11a.m.-9:30 p.m., 11a.m.-11 or 11:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

 
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