Let’s talk chaat.
It’s the unofficial favorite fast food of India, a quick cuisine of street bites, snacks, fritters and other savory treats to eat on the go. Chaat isn’t meant to be fancy. It’s almost all vegetarian, and it often repurposes other foods in surprising ways, but it’s the ultimate in big-flavor fast food, from stuffed flatbreads and incomparable veggie burgers to samosa sandwiches and other strokes of fusion genius.
Best of all, chaat is all around Dallas, and a filling meal often costs as little as $4.
This guide isn’t meant to be a complete listing of all the chaat in North Texas. Instead, we’ve highlighted some of the best dishes from four terrific restaurants in Dallas and Irving. They all have other, equally scrumptious snacks to order, but this is a starting point, an inspiration to go exploring. Go forth, now, and chow down on some of the best bargain food in Dallas.
Chowpatty is a major public beach in Mumbai, and with swimming risky because of heavily polluted waters, the beach is most famous for its street carts serving up chaat. Bombay Chowpatty in northern Irving gets its name from that beach and its iconic savory snacks. The beach appears as a wall-sized poster, and the restaurant has an outdoorsy feel, thanks to bright sunlight, iconic Bollywood movie posters and a wide-open floor plan. The chefs work at a large island in the middle, right behind the ordering counter. Stop by the sides for napkins or plastic utensils.
Lunch platters here are reliably superb, like the chole puri platter ($8), with a spicy chickpea curry and greasy-in-a-good-way frybread, or, even better, the pav bhaji platter ($8.50). The biggest compartment is a well-spiced, but only somewhat spicy, mash of vegetables. Try a spoonful, sure, but the point of pav bhaji is to build a sandwich with little dinner rolls that have been seasoned and griddled. Few fast-food meals are more satisfying, especially since the lunch platters all come with good rice, free tea and dessert.
Bombay Chowpatty also serves what might be the weirdest fusion food in metro Dallas: the pizza dosa ($7.50). It’s a dosa filled with sweet tomato sauce, red onions, green bell peppers, cheese and a very liberal dusting of oregano. The result is admittedly pretty odd, especially since the tomato sauce tastes like supermarket Boboli-brand stuff. It’s best and most intriguing if you dip the dosa in one of the accompanying chutneys.
825 W. Royal Lane, Irving. bombaychowpattyirving.com, 972-677-7658. Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 4:30 – 9:30 p.m.; Fri. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 4:30 – 10 p.m.; Sat. 12 – 10 p.m.; Sun. 12 – 9:30 p.m.
India Chaat Café
In Far North Dallas, sharing a strip mall with the refined French bistro Cadot, India Chaat Café is a fast food and takeout spot that projects peppy optimism. The bright colors, TV tuned to an Indian music video channel and simple menu all suggest the kind of comfort food in which this restaurant specializes.
Aloo tikki chaat ($4) is a colorful bowl built on two patties formed from potatoes, herbs, hot chili pepper flakes and seeds. On those potato cakes, India Chaat Café piles up chickpeas, chutney and a sort of curried gravy with a bewitching blend of spices. It’s enough for a meal by itself, but save room for other snacks and sides, including naan stuffed with lamb ($3.50). It couldn’t be simpler: a stack of buttered naan with a paper-thin layer of ground lamb and parsley folded into the pockets. In case you hit spice overload, there’s a refreshing yogurt dip speckled with seasoning and thin shreds of carrot.
The restaurant’s specialty, while not technically a chaat, is indisputably delicious: “Desi-style” pizzas with Indian toppings. A small chili paneer pizza ($8) boasts a thin crust that stays perfectly crisp all the way to the center, topped with bell peppers, small cubes of paneer, a little bit of oregano and a lot of spice. This is some of the best, and unlikeliest, pizza in North Dallas.
18101 Preston Road. indiachaatcafedallas.com, 972-381-0003. Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Rajwadi Vegetarian Indian Fast Food
It looks like an ordinary veggie burger. The bun is an ordinary bun, gently toasted and glistening with grease. Served on paper, this bun pulls strongly on childhood fast-food memories. The patty doesn’t look like meat, of course, but it doesn’t look too crazy on the outside, either. Maybe the lack of lettuce, tomato or onion is a giveaway that truly transporting flavors are about to hit your tongue. This is dabeli, a chaat from Gujarat that has become one of Rajwadi’s two signature sandwiches.
That veggie burger patty is, in fact, mashed sweet potatoes dosed with a brace of curry seasonings. It contains pomegranate seeds for sweet-tart balance, roasted peanuts for crunch and red onions because everything is better with red onions. Fiery-hot, refreshing, crunchy, soft, sinful and vegetarian all at the same time, dabeli is an ingenious snack like nothing else in the world. And, for $5, it is very filling.
Rajwadi’s other iconic sandwich is the samosa sandwich ($4.49), a samosa smashed flat and placed on another toasted bun. Hey, it tastes better than it sounds. This is a classic chaat because it adds a little texture and a lot of portability to the samosa.
Rajwadi is tucked inside an Indian supermarket with a small but excellent selection of groceries. The sweets are worth trying, and you shouldn’t leave without exploring the frozen meals section, in which $2.50 for a dinner counts as expensive. You also shouldn’t leave the restaurant area without trying sabudana vada ($4.49), crisply fried fritters made with mashed potatoes, tapioca pearls and cilantro. They’re an outstanding snack, and they come with two chutneys, one sweet, the other hot.
9400 N. MacArthur Blvd., Suite 114, Irving. 972-444-0033. Daily 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
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Taj Chaat House
The most celebrated and most popular of Dallas’ chaat restaurants, Taj Chaat House, has been occupying its street corner in Irving for many years. Much has been said about Taj Chaat already; the Observer has called it one of DFW's most interesting restaurants. The house specialty here are dosas, which are served in absolute monster sizes that defy you to try finding room for a side dish.
But if you can restrict yourself to chaat, there are rewards like the dahi puri ($3.50), gently fried pastry puffs filled with chickpeas, potatoes and chutneys. Yogurt gets drizzled over the top, along with cilantro and diced tomato; the result is served cold and not exactly elegantly plated, but it’s a refreshing snack. Taj Chaat House’s excellent free chutney bar, including peanut-garlic, ginger and spicy-coconut varieties, means that this is also a great place to grab an order or two of naan or paratha and spend lunch dipping away.
As with many chaat dishes in Dallas, few vegetarian meals can be as economical, flavorful — or affordable. What’s not to like?
1057 W. Rochelle Road, Irving. tajchaathouse.com, 214-596-1133. Daily 11:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.