Dallas' 50 Most Interesting Restaurants, No. 15: Chennai Cafe

channai-cafe-Uthappam.jpg
Catherine Downes
There's more to life than naan. Try uthappam, which comes with lentils and chutneys.
Leading up to our annual Best of Dallas® issue, we're counting down the 50 most interesting restaurants in Dallas. These spots bring something unique or compelling to the city's dining scene, feeding both your appetite and soul. Find more interesting places on our all-new Best Of app for iTunes or Android.

Chennai Cafe is unlike any Indian restaurant you've visited in Dallas. Sure, there are the usual suspects, but chances are you've never heard of many of the dishes you'll find on the menu. The kitchen staff puts in the extra time to honor the authentic preparation of many of these dishes, and the resultant flavors reflect their labor.

If you order the naatu kozhi varuval, you'll also have some work to do. The dish is made from Cornish hens, which are much smaller than the chickens you normally cook upended on a beer can. The meat is also left on the bone, so you'll have a lot of tedious bone picking ahead of you.

The pieces are small, and a lot of deliberate and careful chewing is required to prevent chomping down on something that could crack a molar. You're also going to spend some time fishing bones out of your mouth with your fingers. If you're not prepared, this dish can catch you off guard.

Karthik Thambidurai, who runs the restaurant with his wife Cecilia Santhi and partner Priya Narayanasami, says the small birds have been chosen because they better emulate the the chickens used for cooking in India. Authenticity is important for the restaurateur, who says he's grown tired of the typical Indian restaurants that water down traditional cooking and shortcut elaborate techniques.

He claims they have a better flavor, too, and what's served at Chennai is certainly packed with flavor. The curry's sauce is thick and loaded with spice and richness. If you can handle some bone-chomping it's a must-order dish and it's certainly better than any chicken curry you'll spoon from a chaffing dish. Which brings up another point of contention for Thambidurai concerning Americanized Indian restaurants. "There is no buffet back in India," he says.

No. 50: Joyce and Gigi's
No. 49: East Hampton Sandwich Co.
No. 48: 20 Feet Seafood Joint
No. 47: Taj Chaat House
No. 46: Mot Hai Ba
No. 45: La Nueva Fresh and Hot
No. 44: Pera Turkish Kitchen
No. 43: Tom's Burgers and Grill
No. 42: Mughlai
No. 41: Russian Banya
No. 40: Off-Site Kitchen
No. 39: Bachman Lake Taqueria
No. 38: Carbone's
No. 37: Babe's
No. 36: Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo
No. 35: Zaguan
No. 34: Royal Sichuan
No. 33: Spoon
No. 32: Bambu
No. 31: Pecan Lodge
No. 30: FT33
No. 29: Keller's Drive-In
No. 28: La Pasadita
No. 27: Ten Bells Tavern
No. 26: El Ranchito
No. 25: Cafe Urbano
No. 24: Nova
No. 23: Jeng Chi
No. 22: Omi
No. 21: Tei-An
No. 20: Jonathon's Oak Cliff
No. 19: Yutaka and Sharaku
No. 18: Local
No. 17: Ibex
No. 16: Pakpao


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