In the Indian languages Hindi, Tamil and Kannada that is what 'Food' is called. Something that a Indian Graduate student in the US craves for apart from the usual pizza, burger, burritos, tacos etc.
Having been in this sultry Arizona desert for close to 17 months(excluding the 2-month long trip to India), I've had an opportunity to dine at most of the Indian restaurants in and around Tempe, including two of them in Scottsdale. "I am a connoisseur of food and appreciate good vegetarian in any form."(disapproved by Dilip and Supraja, I don't eat half the vegetarian stuff apparently) My self-cooking is something I dread the most, but I need to do it thrice a week, given the financial and health constraints that prohibits one from eating out everyday. And I have no clue why people appreciate my food at times :). Enough of self-criticism and self-praise.
I landed in the beginning of August 2005, and didn't get an opportunity to eat outside food until Oct 2nd, when the restaurant Gandhi was opened close to the campus. It was their first day and free food was given away. Starved for good food for close to 2 months, the best use of it was made by us, the Fall 2005 admits. My friend Sapna had her status on Yahoo! messenger set as 'Grab the free food in Gandhi'. There was naan wrap with rice and curry along with Mango lassi. This was the first time I tasted outside food in US, and it did taste a lot different from the same in India. We made the best use of it and got 2-3 wraps for each of us. It was such a shameless thing to do, but who cares anyways.
Then the Fall 2005 semester took it's toll on me and finally I was done with my three courses. It was in October 2005 that 'India Bistro' was opened on Forest Avenue and University Drive. My roommate Praveen and his friends were a regular visitor to that place right from start till it's end an year later. It was Rupa's graduation treat at India Bistro and it was my first proper dinner outside(after than the wedding in Atlanta). It was a buffet with the usual dishes which seemed extraordinarily out of the world then. I would give a 7 on 10 to this place, since it had a quite a bit of vegetarian food and most of them were good too. Their standard menu had chole, spinach curry, rice pudding, gulab jamoon, pulav apart from other curries and non-vegetarian items. It was not a surprise that I went there just for the gulab jamoon and the rice pudding. I went there a couple of times, and they scrapped the buffet off the dinner menu and it was just buffet for lunch. It closed in Sept/Oct 2006 and he opened Madras Cafe, in the place where Gandhi was, but this was short-lived too.
Gandhi too had buffet for both lunch and dinner, and during the crisis months of November and December, we would run for a quick dinner there. There were totally 6-8 dishes on the menu, with 3-4 being vegetarian. It was run by a Punjabi lady, and it was no wonder the dishes were too oily. They used to have two curries and two rice dishes with mango lassi and rice pudding. The thing that interested me more about this place was the large world map that they map on one side of the wall. I would give it a 5 on 10. I was there last, when I was done my Spring 2006 exams. It closed sometime when I was in India and was never opened again. Madras Cafe replaced it for a while.
Kohinoor the closest one to my apartment has been one thing that I dread to go to. I have heard about its dirty kitchen and more about its owner and the lady who scares me whenever I am there. I am there only when I am seriously hungry and have no other option. It's been 6-8 months since I've been there. I give it a 2 on 10. I have heard that the Copper Kettle express close by is better compared to this one but never been there.
Madras Cafe was a short-lived one, but had good dosas for cheap and some good curries too. I would give it a 7/10.
Leave behind the shortlived ones and the so-so ones. Now comes the really good ones here, and that have been around for quite sometime too.
India Plaza on Apache has a good variety of chaat and it pretty nominally priced too. I discovered this just a couple of weeks back. i would give 8 on 10 for it's chat. It has dahi puri that tastes the same as in Bangalore. It's bhel puri was good too.
Little India is the place you need to be if you want to have awesome chaat. It is managed by an irritating Gujrati guy, but it is okay considering the chaat stuff they have. They have Samosa chaat, Kachori chaat, dhokla, paranthas, papri chaat, golgappas and anything that you can think of. I'd been there 3-4 times and loved it each time. I would give it a 9/10 for its chaat. The only drawback is you need to wait if you are there on a weekend, since it is jammed packed and they have very few tables.
Tandoori Times is one restaurant we went to recently. It has good tandoori stuff and the vegetable biriyani at this place is awesome. Prathap says that the chicken biriyani is good too. But the curry dishes like Navratna korma were ordinary. We got a bread basket with Onion, Garlic, Aloo and Plain naans. It was a good buy and tasted good too. I would give this place a 8 on 10. It doesn't have too many vegetarian options though. But on weekends there is a belly dancer, which made us feel a little too uncomfortable.
Delhi palace, on University Drive and Rural, is one of the oldest restaurants here and my favorite. They have a really good dinner menu and it is the variety that attracts too many people to this place. They have all varieties of north Indian dishes. I don't like the lunch buffet too much though. The Malai kofta, paneer dishes here are simply out of the world. And not to mention, the Samosas. I've never tasted better ones in the US. They have a nice variety of dishes and the it is my most frequented place. I've always seen more non-Indians than Indians here :), no idea why? And it was here I dined the last before going to India last summer and it was a really nice taste of India I got before reaching India itself.
Udupi cafe on Scottsdale Road, is one of the oldest restaurants and the pure vegetarian restaurants and is my favorite for the south Indian food. It is the only place that serves Dosas other than the India Plaza. I am not too sure if Pasand serves Dosas though. They have a proper menu of south Indian dishes starting with idli, medhu vada, masala vada, dosas, uthappam, apart from the north Indian dishes. But I would suggest, get the south Indian dishes here. I don't like the chutney though, since it is made from dessicated coconut. The lunch buffet on weekends has a lot of variety with pongal, vada, idli, dosa, jamoon, payasam and other north Indian food. I wouldn't mind going to this place at any time, just for the dosas alone. They have normal plain dosa, masala dosa, rava dosa, rava masala, chettinadu cauliflower dosa, tirunelveli spinach dosa, coimbatore ...(some dosa), spring dosai etc. Just the same dosa with different stuffing inside. It fills you too, and it is a good dinner. There are good starter on the menu which themselves tend to fill you. I would give Udupi a 10 on 10.
Jewel of the crown in Scottsdale would have been the real 'Jewel of the crown', but for Udupi Cafe. I have been there twice, and it has a good set of vegetable curry and gravy dishes, good paneer dishes, good naan, parathas. It's garlic naan is something that is out of the world. And it has a nice sitting area outside and during the 'pleasant' months of October, November and March it is good to sit outside and relish the good food in the good Arizona weather. They have a good set of starters too. Overall a good place to eat, and easy on the pocket too. A 10 on 10 for this too.
Pasand and India Gate are places that I've not been to, so cannot say how they actually are. Will update this when I go there.
I agree that the Indian restaurants in Tempe are not upto the same mark as in the Bay area and Chicago area, but that's the thing that we are offered here.