It's not often that I would enthusiastically recommend a West Michigan restaurant to someone from Chicago or New York. But a tiny new place in Grand Haven, Michigan is putting out a small but amazing menu of Sri Lankan and Southern Indian specialties, which compares well to food I've had in those larger cities.
Thali Bistro, a cheery, retro-styled eatery with eleven or so tables inside and out, is just a few minutes off US 31 in Grand Haven. The menu is small compared to most Indian restaurants and my husband and I are vegan and vegetarian, so we've tried the few selections in that corner of the menu. For lunch they make a terrific (and huge) Spicy Aloo Wrap filled with potatoes, lentils and sauteed spinach. There aren't many wraps I would drive further than a few minutes for, but this is one, especially with the amazing coriander/mint chutney and organic mixed green salad on the side. The other veggie option is the South Indian Sauteed Spinach Thali which comes with dal, rice and salad.
At dinner, appetizer options include Vegetable Samosas, Stuffed Capiscums (peppers stuffed with veggies), Lentil Dumplings, and Aubergine (eggplant) Fritters. We ended up with the lightly battered fritters topped with a tamarind sauce and the dumplings, about the size of meatballs, with yogurt sauce. Both generous portions were delicious but the dumplings were at the upper limit of our spiciness tolerance (and I like it hot).
DInner entrees include the spinach thali, Masala Dosa ($13.95) and Wild Mushrooms in Tropical Flavors ($13.95). The dosa, a South Indian specialty, is hard to find in West Michigan. The large crepe-like bread was filled with a hefty portion of potato and lentils and served with spicy coconut chutney. The mushrooms came with rice, dal masala and the organic greens. I was worried that "tropical" and "sweet spices" meant sugary, but the dish was perfectly seasoned and definitely not too sweet.
For bread we ordered garlic kulcha ($2.95) and the three chutney sampler ($3.95). The shallot and mustard chutneys were quite hot and the pineapple (a replacement for the usual mango) had a surprise kick. We wondered how others were handling the heat, so we kept an eye on nearby tables—everyone appeared to happily clean their plates of the unusual fare.
To wet your whistle, you can choose from wine, beer and GUS (Grown Up Sodas). I really love their house "Monsoon Juice", a blend of ginger and lemonade. If you're a carnivore, I think I saw beef and lamb, (and maybe wild boar and fish?) on the menu in various configurations.
Though I don't know much about Sri Lankan cuisine, we found this less oily and less overcooked than typical Indian fare. They also are quite generous with the heat which we appreciate, though I wonder if they'll have to tone it down for local palates. TRY THIS PLACE!!!
211 N 7th Street
Grand Haven, Michigan
Tuesday through Sunday
Lunch 12 to 3 p.m.
Dinner 5 to 9 p.m.