I know a lot of people who say they like Indian food. "Yum! Chicken tikka masala," they say. Tandoori naan, lamb sheekh kabob, and naan. Maybe a nice, spicy curry, probably also with chicken.
Most of the Indian food in the US is northern (Punjabi, to be exact) -- go into an Indian restaurant and there will be dal, and chana, and saag aloo, and saag paneer. The only really South Indian dishes you find commonly are dosas.
So it was with relish that I accompanied some friends to Tirupathi Bhimas, a South Indian (Hyderabadi -- the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh, in the centre south of the country) restaurant on the second floor of a mall on Pioneer Boulevard in Artesia's Little India.
Service was very kind, as is the case in most Indian restaurants. Service with a grunt, the way it happens in many Asian eateries, is not the norm in Indian restaurants. It's very civilised. The room is very bright and airy, the tables aren't uncomfortably close together, and everything is absolutely spotless (in contrast with, say, India Sweets & Spices). It's not a special-occasion Indian restaurant; it's a casual place to go with friends or family and have a long, well-made meal without being rushed out by diners looking for tables.
When in doubt -- and how do you choose from a list of idli (small round steamed lentil breads with sauce), dosa (huge thin crepes often wrapped round vegetables with dips) and utthapam (pancakes with various vegetables cooked in) anyway? -- go for a thali. A thali is a bowl of rice in the centre of a dish with a lot of small samples of various foods surrounding it. It's a great way to get to know what the kitchen is doing, because you get a little bit (maybe a half to three quarters of a cup) of each dish, plus rice, papad (lentil cracker) and chapati (soft flatbread).
There are three thali at Tirupathi Bhimas -- a "Spicy Andhra Thali", a "Non-Spicy Thali" and a "North Indian Thali" (the few North Indian dishes are clearly there to serve as the hamburger and fries of a Chinese takeout menu).
Mrs Ubergeek and I ordered a spicy Andhra thali and a masala dosa (the enormous crepe wrapped around spiced potatoes). The thali had curried chile peppers, dry-fried peas and carrots with grated unsweetened coconut, spicy soup, vegetable korma (that's coconut milk curry to you), two curried vegetables -- cauliflower in one and a kind of celery in another, yoghurt (NOT raita, there were no cucumbers in) and kheer (rice pudding with raisins, cashews and warm spices).
The curried peppers were cooked to reduce the heat a little bit -- they were great and easy to eat with a torn piece of the chapati. The peas and carrots with coconut was a typical South Indian dish -- very simple, but very flavourful. Neither of us cared for the soup -- it was slightly acerbic, like Indian pickle (which I hate, I think it tastes like soap). The korma was great -- I love korma. The vegetables were in surprisingly thin sauce, but it soaked into the rice beautifully. Yoghurt is yoghurt. The kheer was very good, with a heavy use of green cardamom.
The dosa was beautifully done, crispy at the edges and soft in the centre, with sambar (spicy vegetable sauce), tamarind sauce, some unidentified pink dip, and coconut sauce. I didn't get a lot of it -- surprisingly, Die Uberbaby ate half the dosa and a big spoonful of the masala potato.
I had a piece of my neighbour's onion and chile-pepper utthapam and it was FIERY hot... but good, well-made and not greasy. In fact my usual complaint about Indian food, the overuse of ghee, was not in evidence -- no oil floating on top, no residue at the bottom of the dishes.
The thali was $9.24 and the masala dosa $6.75, for a total of $20 out the door. I'd have liked a faluda from Saffron Ice Cream on the first floor, but die Uberbaby was fussing for a nap so we had to launch ourselves back into the 91.
A few notes -- Tirupathi Bhimas serves no meat. Vegetarianism is very common especially in South India, and in fact I usually find meat superfluous in Indian cuisine. Kabob Corner, downstairs in the same plaza, is owned by the same folks and serves meat. The other (original) branch of Tirupathi Bhimas is in Milpitas, near San Jose (but discussions of that branch would go on the SF Bay Area board, not here).
Tirupathi Bhimas is worth going to. I'm looking forward to our next visit. It's the best South Indian I've had in LA, and my tastes in Indian food are finicky, having grown up a mile from Iselin, New Jersey's Little India.
1208 S Abel St, Milpitas, CA 95035
18792 Pioneer Blvd, Artesia, CA 90701