I've been craving home-cooked punjabi food for a while now and as I was too lazy to cook it myself and didn't want to drive all the way to my usual stand-by of Al-Watan I decided to try somewhere closer to home (I live right by USC). For some time now my Indian friends have been telling me about a place they call "23rd St cafe" although that's not the name on the front (I can't remember what the actual name is right now... d'oh); all I can say is that I'm glad I finally went.
After parking my car across the road I was a little concerned walking up to the place as most of the menu items listed in the window were for Mexican food (!) but I was somewhat re-assured walking in. The place was full of Indian students from USC eating what looked like pretty delicious unpretentious food served on iron thalis. Deciding to forego meat dishes my friends and I ordered the very reasonably priced vegetarian combo plates - $5 or so for one main dish served with rice, dhal, raita, and naan. My two friends VP and KG ordered the matter paneer (indian cottage cheese with peas) and the aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower) respectively and I went for the chole (garnbanzo beans). KG and I also ordered plain unsweetened lassi.
After a short wait the lady behind the counter brought out out food, the lassis and also gave us some achaar (pickles) at no charge. The food was as I have said unpretentious, but it was clearly freshly made and more importantly was delicious to boot! The naan was unfortunately reheated and not freshly made but they don't have a tandoor in there so it was to be expected. The rice was plain but of a good quality and tasty even on its on. The raita tasted like it was made with homemade curds and had just the right amount of veggies (tomato and cucumber) and spices in it. The dhal was truly delicious and I would have been happy with having just that.
Of the three main dishes we ordered between us the matter paneer was my favourite (wish I'd ordered it) spicy and full of flavour with a generous amount of paneer. The aloo gobi was also tasty with fresh slightly crunchy cauliflower pieces contrasted with soft piueces of tender aloo - it was also unlike most aloo gobi I've had here in LA which comes with too much sauce and was more akin to the dry(er) version I am used to my mum making. The chole were good too, cooked till just al dente in a flavourful gravy - although I would have preferred a bit more heat in them.
The lassi also deserves a mention as again it was more authentic than most lassis I've had here in LA which tend to resemble a milkshake rather than the more watery version that Punjabis are used to. My room-mate and I (another Punjabi) both agreed that it also tasted as though it was made with home-made yoghurt.
I've been told by my friends that all of their Indian food (they also serve mexican dishes) is of a similarly high standard and I can't wait to go back and try their aloo parathas and gobi parathas as well as the samosas - all of which have been recommended to me.
The cafe is located on the south-east corner of 23rd St and Toberman St (just east of Hoover Blvd) near USC. The area is not apparently the most safe place to be especially in the evenings according to USC friends of mine who live there - but then again they still live there...