Vegetarian Cuisine

The once-ignored vegetarian dishes of southern India are making inroads in L.A.

Photograph by Edmund Barr

The vegetarian cooks of India’s southernmost states use ground beans and grains to create a panoply of multitextured dishes. Their crispy crepe-style dosa, pancake-like uthappam, spongy steamed iddly dumplings, and rich porridges and fritters tempt even carnivores. Sambar, a slightly tart lentil-based stew, is a traditional accompaniment. Known for intense chili-driven heat, the cuisine is balanced with coconut, both in curries and in chutneys. Its seasonings are unmistakable: neem, or curry leaf, and hing, the pungent resin.

Annapurna Cuisine | Culver City & Artesia

With Wi-Fi and plasma screens flashing Bollywood musicals, Culver City’s Annapurna Cuisine exemplifies urban, tech-savvy India. The food, however, is classic: Lacy rava dosa, ultrathin paper dosa, and diverse southern-style curries are accompanied by pickles, chutneys, and sambars. Annapurna Express in Artesia serves an all-day buffet of south Indian specialties. » 10200 Venice Blvd., Culver City, 310-204-5500; 17705 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, 562-403-2200.

India Sweets and Spices | Los Feliz

The newest branch of this minichain features homemade chat, or snacks, and street food as well as an actual dining room with communal tables, a long deli case, and vivid orange signs listing specials. The written menu includes cooked-to-order southern-style items like uthappam, iddly, dosa with sambar, and fried, doughnut-shaped vada. » 3126 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Feliz, 323-345-0360.

Tirupathi Bhimas | Artesia

Customers are drawn to this spacious aerie for its spicy lunchtime Andhra Pradesh-style thali, the traditional collection of small dishes. Tiny, sweet carrot cubes with grated coconut and kootu—a lentil stew redolent of hing, chilis, and coconut—come with roti bread, a crackly lentil wafer, a mound of rice, and dessert. » 18792 Pioneer Blvd., 2nd fl., Artesia, 562-809-3806.

Udupi Palace | Artesia

The specialties are the draw here: kancheepurum iddly, embedded with ginger and cashews; kadi, little fritters submerged in sumptuous coconut curry; and the “tomato omelet,” a pizzalike uthappam made from chickpea flour. Named for a temple city in Karnataka, the restaurant makes dosa as long as baseball bats that rival others in the city for span and lightness. » 18635 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, 562-860-1950.

Woodlands | Artesia & Chatsworth

The dining room is all purples and mauves, and the cooking is meticulous: tamarind and lemon rice, coconut chutney, chana batura—volleyball-size, eggshell-thin fried bread. Food like this renders meat irrelevant. Wednesdays and Fridays are “Dosa Nights,” when for $10 you have your choice of dosa and a generous buffet. » 11833 Artesia Blvd., Artesia, 562-860-6500; 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, 818-998-3031.

Photograph by EDMUND BARR