Indian vegetarian specialties highlight the menu at Samosa House in El Segundo








I do like to watch the transition, almost inevitable, from one restaurant in any given space to another diametrically opposed restaurant in that same space. Which is why it’s worth noting that one particular space at the corner of Allied Way in the back satellite shopping zone at the Plaza El Segundo used to be the meat-intensive burger joint called The Counter. And now it’s a branch of the South Indian vegetarian chain Samosa House.

Talk about going from one end of the spectrum to the other, from bacon cheeseburgers to masala dosa. It’s enough to give me culinary whiplash.

Though Indian vegetarian restaurants abound in the ethnic enclave of Artesia, they’re somewhat rarer hereabouts, usually just a page on the menu, following the chicken, fish and beef dishes. But the Samosa House chain (which began in 1979) has found a following with two branches in Culver City, one in Santa Monica and one in Silver Lake. And in the case of one of the Culver City branches, their Bharat Bazaar, you have both a restaurant and an Indian supermarket — eat your lentils, and then take home a bag to make later.

In the case of the El Segundo Samosa House, the style is much more focused on being a fast-food — or at least, fast-casual — alternative. Though it’s also worth noting that on the other end of the center, there’s a branch of Veggie Grill. And in the case of this particular Samosa House, you have the option of outdoor dining. The view is mostly of the parking and the other stores, but still, it is outdoors.

You can order from a printed menu at Samosa House, which offers some structure for those unsure of the food. As the name suggests, there’s a samosa, and a very good one — a pastry packed with spiced potato and peas, and then deep-fried till it crunches, served with a variety of chutneys for dipping, a very satisfying small dish for $1.65. (It’s hard to believe that you could get a good dish, of any sort, at any restaurant, for $1.65!)

There are pakoras — fried fritters — one made with spinach and onion, the other with lentils, served with yogurt and chili sauce. And chutneys, always chutneys, some of which are easy to identify, others of which seem just sweet, spicy and exotic. Which they are. There’s a vegetable kabab, made of spinach and peas, with the poetic name hara bhara kabab, and a pancake with the slightly less mellifluous name sabudana wada, of tapioca and potatoes.

And then, there’s the chaat. Chaat can be many, many things. It’s defined by being something kind of snacky, usually with a bit of spice. I love chaat, always have, which can be purchased to eat like potato chips at Indian spice and sweet shops. Papri chaat is a wonderful thing, a dish of puffed wheat and lentil crisps, tossed with veggies, chutney and so much spice. Samosa chaat is made with mashed garbanzo beans, pani puri with veggies and a curryish masala sauce. Like pistachio nuts, you can’t stop eating the stuff.


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And then, there are the dosas: long, thin, flavorful South India crepes, filled with potatoes and onions, flavored with coconut and tomato chutney. They’re essential to the cuisine. But perhaps even more essential is going with the combination plates, a great way to taste several dishes, from a steam table of many containers, filled with many veggies and grains, with wonderful names like aloo gobi, chana masala, pakoras curry, daal and much more.

It seems to change with some regularity, but if there’s anything made with garbanzo beans, grab it. This is a cuisine that reveres the garbanzo. The last time I dropped by there was a squash curry as well that was a thing of joy. The squash had been long cooked, was on the verge of falling to pieces, but hadn’t yet — near perfect.

The combinations, served with three entrees in a multicompartmented container, come with a choice of white rice and brown rice, and with a small container of raita, a mix of yogurt and dill, very satisfying if you want to counteract the spice. There’s a tasty ginger tea — ginger chai — along with mango lassi, a yogurt “smoothie” with a touch of cardamom. It comes in a vegan version made with soy milk. Sitting at one of the outdoor tables, eating deeply ethnic dishes from Uttar Pradesh, may make you wonder where you are. And thinking about the burgers that used to be eaten here can be even more shocking. The burgers were good enough, but the samosas are better.

Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at mreats@aol.com.

Samosa House

Rating: 2.5 stars

Address: Plaza El Segundo, 700 S. Allied Way, El Segundo

Information: 310-496-7389, www.samosahouse.com

Cuisine: Indian vegetarian

When: Lunch and dinner, every day

Details: Soft drinks, tea and beer; no reservations

Atmosphere: In what used to be the burger-intensive The Counter, a new and very tasty meatless option (talk about a turnaround!): the local branch of a Culver City Indian vegetarian chain, with a steam table from which to order a wide variety of dishes and some very good breads.

Prices: About $10 per person

Suggested dishes: Samosas ($1.65), Spinach Pakoras ($4.50), Chili Pakoras ($4.50), Samosa Chaat ($5.99), Papri Chaat ($4.99), Bhel Puri ($4.99), Masala Dosa ($8.99), Combination Plates ($10.99/$11.50)

Cards: MC, V



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