In preparation for 2 business trips to Chennai, I wasn't finding much in updated information on food/restaurants, so here is a brief updated report on some favorites. I stayed at the Park Hyatt Chennai in Velachery, which is a bit of a ways outside of the city center but still reachable for meals. I had a driver and we went all over the city for food and shopping; I would say the PH had excellent food and for their new Beyond Madras concept, it would be worth a trek out to experience a great selection of heritage recipes.
Only ate at the Park Hyatt as it was included but loved the following:
Homemade baked yogurt (fresh stewed dates or housemade sesame granola crumbles on top)
Poha (new dish to me - lightly fried rice with nuts and curry leaves)
Mango smoothies - A+
Dosa/Vada served with the best coconut chutney and tomato chutneys I've had in India. Could eat with a spoon.
Favorite grocery store item: Lays potato chips: Magic Masala flavor (spicy!)
Favorite fried banana chips (savory) - Hot Chips stall on the perimeter street around Kapaleeswarar temple. Maybe S Mada Street? Tiny salmon colored stall with chips and snacks in full view, big kettle out front freshly frying up
Thattai - 3" rust colored fried cracker rounds studded with dal, these crackery chips are so tasty! A bit oniony and nutty and spicy in the way that the more you eat, the spicier they get. Favorite came from Ganga Sweets (multiple locations) - they have plain Thattai (this one) but also cracked pepper thattai which I did not get a chance to try.
Grand Sweets and Snacks was good but so was Ganga Sweets - and you can get Thattai there (best new snack discovery!)
Copper Chimney -
Loved on CH and understandably so. Clean, modern, but inexpensive. Best garlic naan I've had in the city. Also liked Paneer Palak and loved the Muzzafar dessert - a liquid custard with sliced nuts and toasted shreds of tiny noodles for texture. Ate repeat meals here
No.74, Cathedral Road, Opp Maris Hotel, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600086, India
Shree Mithai -
Found this place searching for a place to try a dish called Paneer Labradar. It is a multi level restaurant with a sweets shop, self service, and sit down restaurant on top. The Paneer labradar was a favorite this trip - cheese so fresh the cubes squeaked, in a cashew creamy/chunky tomato sauce that built in heat as you ate it. Many of the creamy sauced dishes in Chennai were sweetened, this was perfectly savory. Restaurant was packed with locals and there was actually a wait, but takeaway is always an option. 350Rs for the paneer and rice. This restaurant had lots of good North Indian dishes if you get tired of South Indian fare.
Old No.99, New No.189, AI Block, IV Avenue, Shanthi Colony, Anna Nagar, Chennai-600 040.
A2B, Delhi Highway, Dindigul Talapakkati all had outlets in the foodcourt of my office building (I wish my US office had this kind of setup). What you might find in the actual restaurants may differ slightly but I enjoyed all variety meals, both veg and non veg. Dindigul had good (and spicy) chicken biriyani. I did stop at an A2B outpost on my way home for a quick ghee roast dosa (my favorite dosa) which was fast and cheap at 60Rs.
Taj Southern Spice-
This meal was $$$ and very good, Indian 'fine dining' and a good sampling of a number of South Indian dishes. Favorites included the fried mini lotus snacks and banana dosa (more of a cake)
As a counterpoint, the Park Hyatt just launched a similar concept, so if you are looking to try a selection of South Indian dishes, you can get the same variety at a cheaper pricepoint (1300 INR) from PH. I found the level of food to be on par, though the fine dining dinnerplates/settings were not as fine/high end as the Taj. They do serve on a banana leaf like the Taj, and present a selection of curries in tiny silver bowls, also like the Taj.
I have attached some shots of the menu - they launched last month to highlight regional Indian cuisine's 'forgotten' recipes. Recipes that they acquired through families/mothers/grandmothers etc which I thought was really interesting. The food was excellent and many of the dishes were items I had not seen on menus around town. I particularly liked the millet dosa and the almost dry style gourd and fresh pea curry in spicy tomato sauce (kovakai pattani masala).