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Dallas' 50 Most Interesting Restaurants, No. 15: Chennai Cafe

There's more to life than naan. Try uthappam, which comes with lentils and chutneys.
There's more to life than naan. Try uthappam, which comes with lentils and chutneys.
Catherine Downes

Leading up to our annual Best of DallasĀ® issue, we're counting down the 50 most interesting restaurants in Dallas. These spots bring something unique or compelling to the city's dining scene, feeding both your appetite and soul. Find more interesting places on our all-new Best Of app for iTunes or Android.

Chennai Cafe is unlike any Indian restaurant you've visited in Dallas. Sure, there are the usual suspects, but chances are you've never heard of many of the dishes you'll find on the menu. The kitchen staff puts in the extra time to honor the authentic preparation of many of these dishes, and the resultant flavors reflect their labor.

If you order the naatu kozhi varuval, you'll also have some work to do. The dish is made from Cornish hens, which are much smaller than the chickens you normally cook upended on a beer can. The meat is also left on the bone, so you'll have a lot of tedious bone picking ahead of you.

The pieces are small, and a lot of deliberate and careful chewing is required to prevent chomping down on something that could crack a molar. You're also going to spend some time fishing bones out of your mouth with your fingers. If you're not prepared, this dish can catch you off guard.

Karthik Thambidurai, who runs the restaurant with his wife Cecilia Santhi and partner Priya Narayanasami, says the small birds have been chosen because they better emulate the the chickens used for cooking in India. Authenticity is important for the restaurateur, who says he's grown tired of the typical Indian restaurants that water down traditional cooking and shortcut elaborate techniques.

He claims they have a better flavor, too, and what's served at Chennai is certainly packed with flavor. The curry's sauce is thick and loaded with spice and richness. If you can handle some bone-chomping it's a must-order dish and it's certainly better than any chicken curry you'll spoon from a chaffing dish. Which brings up another point of contention for Thambidurai concerning Americanized Indian restaurants. "There is no buffet back in India," he says.

No. 50: Joyce and Gigi's No. 49: East Hampton Sandwich Co. No. 48: 20 Feet Seafood Joint No. 47: Taj Chaat House No. 46: Mot Hai Ba No. 45: La Nueva Fresh and Hot No. 44: Pera Turkish Kitchen No. 43: Tom's Burgers and Grill No. 42: Mughlai No. 41: Russian Banya No. 40: Off-Site Kitchen No. 39: Bachman Lake Taqueria No. 38: Carbone's No. 37: Babe's No. 36: Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo No. 35: Zaguan No. 34: Royal Sichuan No. 33: Spoon No. 32: Bambu No. 31: Pecan Lodge No. 30: FT33 No. 29: Keller's Drive-In No. 28: La Pasadita No. 27: Ten Bells Tavern No. 26: El Ranchito No. 25: Cafe Urbano No. 24: Nova No. 23: Jeng Chi No. 22: Omi No. 21: Tei-An No. 20: Jonathon's Oak Cliff No. 19: Yutaka and Sharaku No. 18: Local No. 17: Ibex No. 16: Pakpao


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