I probably would have passed this restaurant a thousand times were it not for a hot tip from a concerned Indian food lover. But upon hearing word that a new Indian restaurant had opened -- one that served good, cheap, South Indian-style street food -- I rushed out to give it a try.
Although Austin's roll call of South Asian restaurants has been steadily swelling over the last decade, most of the new places have been strictly sit-down establishments that primarily serve the rich, buttery curries of North Indian-style cuisine, at fairly upscale prices. What has been woefully under-represented in the Austin scene is not only the more affordably priced everyday street food, but also the equally complex culinary traditions of South Indian cuisine.
Enter Little Bombay. Ensconced in a perfunctory-looking storefront on the backside of a strip mall, Little Bombay is not among one of the more decorative South Asian restaurants in the city. But its very inattention to glamour and glitz bespeaks its true focus, which is wholesome, vegetarian, Indian street food. The kitchen whips up giant stuffed dosas -- crackling and crisp, tart with spiced potato filling, and accented by fiery tamarind-lentil Sambar and soothing, coconut chutney. For those not familiar with this tasty snack, a dosa is a thin rice-flour crepe stuffed with a filling that commonly includes potatoes but can in theory involve just about any type of spiced vegetable mixture. Another dish I tried, the Chole Puri, comes with three steaming pillows of fried dough (Puri), the perfect way to tuck in the bumptious chickpea stew (Chole) that lounges seductively alongside them.
On weekends, Little Bombay offers specialties such as vegetable pakore (vegetables fried in chickpea batter) or little fried chickpea-and-potato patties. During one of our visits, the kitchen had prepared a special Pav Bhaji, a blistering, tomato-y, tongue-smacking stew served with a bread that I can only describe as something akin to Texas toast. Whether the Pav Bhaji au toast is in fact an authentic morsel of South Indian cooking, I know not. I do know, however, that all of my Indian friends to whom I've talked consider the offerings at Little Bombay to be real Indian cuisine.
As is typical of street food worldwide, many of the menu items at Little Bombay are short-order and fried, which makes the fare there all the more attractive to restaurant-goers who crave simple comfort food served without spectacle or unnecessary display. Their homestyle approach seems be working; the six-month-old, hole-in-the-wall restaurant has already begun attracting an impressive clientele to its plain, little storefront.
Whether it's samosas, kachori (fried pea fritters), or fresh paratha (thin frybread), all of the dishes listed on Little Bombay's restricted menu are clearly fresh, homemade, and delicious. The food will appeal to vegetarians, moreover, like an invigorating draught of soma; all of the cuisine there is absolutely meatless. Little Bombay is the kind of place that's great to go to on a weekend afternoon, when the stomach begins grumbling for attention but the rest of the body protests against a full feed-stop. It has already become a regular on my list of Saturday afternoon snack stations. Quick and fuss-free, Little Bombay is recommended to anyone with a craving for the savory, aromatic flavors of authentic Indian cuisine. -- Rachel Feit