I am, I admit, suspicious of chains. The first time I went to Saravanaa Bhavan for dinner shortly after it opened I hadn't done my homework and was somewhat mortified to discover that there were 48 SBs sprinkled all around the world including India, the UK, the USA, UAE, Oman, Singapore, Malaysia, Mississauga and Scarborough. After the meal, I could see why: reasonably priced food, well prepared (by and large -- the deep fried stuff was not up to par that night) and all veg. I've been trying to get by for the weekday buffet which I've heard good things about for months. This place is a bit too far to walk to for an office type lunch but since I had an appointment nearby it seemed the perfect opportunity.
I came late (2:15) and was assured that I had plenty of time as the buffet is offered till 3 pm. Divided platter in hand, I dove in to: white rice, lemon rice, bisibelabeth (a tomatoey rice dish), sambar, rasam (tamarind soup), pariyal (beets and veggies), vatral kozhambu (soupy "curry" with dried beans), kootu (corn dish), potato masala, palak gobi (the unnaturally green pureed spinach was a bit offputting), chana masala, paneer butter masala, vadai (savoury lentil doughnuts), appalam (lentil crackers kinda like pappadums), idli (rice cakes), various pickles, raitas and chutneys plus two desserts (payasam rice pudding with cardamom and a violent orange cream of wheat dish that I found strangely addictive). Waitstaff were circulating with fresh made puri, naan and masala dhosa which they hand out freely. Standouts for me were the masala dhosa, vaida, chana masala, paneer, pariyal and the puri but really there were no duds -- mostly I'd say it's a matter of taste rather than quality as to what you enjoy most here. For $9.95 this is a great value. I had a plain sweet lassi for $3.50 that was okay but next time I think I'll just have the water which they bring for you in a large jug, so as to save room for more grazing at the buffet :-).
I notice that the Vancouver location is now offering North Indian thali (I saw evidence of this in the thali dishes that in-the-know regulars had snaffled to keep their various curries etc from running together), cheese dosa and masala chai in the evenings. I rather think sticking to the South Indian specialties is the way to go here though...
955W Broadway W, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1K3, CA