The Phoenix metro area has three entirely vegetarian India restaurants in town: Café Krishna, Udupi Cafe and Woodlands Vegetarian. All three offer a variety of north and south Indian food, with a special emphasis on the dosai. They are also vegan-friendly, to varying degrees.
Out of the three, we prefer Udupi because 80% of the menu is vegan, and the food is spectacular. Udupi is on Scottsdale Road, about a mile north of the 202.
We’ve only been to Café Krishna once, for the lunch buffet. It was tasty, but it had limited vegan options when compared to Udupi’s. We haven’t been compelled to go back because the dinner menu does not mark what is vegan, and we didn’t like the reaction we got when we asked the waiter to help us figure out what we could eat on the buffet. Woodlands offers similar items to Udupi (I think the previous Udupi owner opened Woodlands) but it is counter-serve/very casual. It’s less expensive, but also a bit hit and miss. Of the three restaurants, it is by far the spiciest, and can be a bit too greasy. I’m up for giving it another try soon though.
We typically go to Udupi for Sunday lunch buffet, which is predominantly vegan. The buffet always offers interesting items I wouldn’t typically think to order from the menu or aren’t on the menu at all, plus standard items such as a dhal or chole. The buffet comes with freshly prepared masala dosai, which are worth the price of admission. Go hungry, wear loose clothing, and expect to eat so much that you won’t be able to move very quickly after. The lunch buffet is open six days a week (they are closed on Tuesdays).
Our most recent visit to Udupi was for dinner. We started with papadum and vegetable samosas.
Udupi’s samosas are second to none in town. The crust is firm yet flakey, and not too greasy. They are stuffed with highly-spiced potatoes, peas and onions. The mint chutney that is served with the samosas is vegan (no yogurt), incredibly good and very hot, so I tend to over-do it. I drench the pastry in mint chutney, then cool down my next bite with tamarind chutney, only to heat it up again with the mint. By the time I’m done my nose is running. The papadum is nothing special, but it just isn’t an Indian meal without it.
I’m flat-out addicted to the dhal curry. I rarely order anything else.
Sometimes it can be a little salty, but it’s always intensely flavorful. The lentils are matched with onions, mustard seeds, hot chili peppers (watch out for them!) and curry leaves. I think there may be some ginger and garlic in it too. The spice levels can vary. I’ve ordered it “medium” before and cried from the heat, but I recently ordered it “spicy” and it was mild. It could be my taste buds were deadened from the mint chutney overload though…
My husband’s order tends to vary with each visit. His usual go-to is the special rava masala dosai, which is an amazing crepe with onions and peppers embedded in the dough, plus a filling of potatoes and onions (similar to a samosa filling). During our most recent visit, he experimented and tried the chick peas uthappam, which is a thick pancake topped with veggies.
It was a little too thick/heavy, and the veggies on top were limited. We preferred the dosai. The chutneys and sambar (soup) that come with the dosai and uthappam are excellent (and vegan). They also serve raita (yogurt salad) as a side but if you’re vegan, just let them know to not bring it.
There really isn’t anything on the menu at Udupi that isn’t spicy, so don’t bother bringing people along who can’t take the heat. If you’re looking for a place that offers good vegetarian and vegan options but also satisfies omnivores, try Pasand. It was our go-to for south Indian food before we discovered Udupi. Priya is similar, but I once found a meat bone in my vegetarian soup, so it’s been black-listed. Let me know if you’ve tried any other vegan-friendly Indian restaurants in town. It’s my second-favorite cuisine so I always want to try new places!