All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
You’ll find that time slows. You’ll take slower bites, thoughtful and concerted twirls of stir-fried noodles and heaping forkfuls of saucy tofu. Your mind will ease through the flavors like you’re footing your way up the steps of a flight of stone stairs. The lights in the courtyard’s yaupon tree will glimmer.
On my table of polished black, where I’m spooning through a cooling dessert of vanilla sweet rice and halvah — "It’s like vanilla ice cream with a brownie,” I’m told in a ingenious sell — the reflection of the lights look like stars in a night sky. At the best vegetarian restaurant in Dallas, one that reaches far above your usual no-meat meal, is a dinner that you won’t forget.
Dinner here under the stars is a sensory experience, one that encourages memory, at East Dallas’ Hare Krishna temple. The name Kalachandji, an ancient Hindu deity worshipped 500 years ago in India, means "the beautiful moon-faced one.”
Under the grand courtyard tree, the water feature tumbles softly, and my tray is heavy with cinnamon bread, shattering papadam, brown rice and yellow mung dal soup. Kalachandji’s is celebrating its 35th year — it opened in September of 1982 — of being the city's most memorable buffet.
Tofu is cut into thick triangles, deep-fried and set aside. Meanwhile, oil heats in saucepan until it’s hit with crushed red chiles, ginger and asafoetida, an herb with a leek-like flavor that aides in digestion. The sauce that follows is a string section of spices, a humming crimson blend of tomato puree and paste, mustard powder, chopped parsley, soy, lemon, black pepper and orange. It browns with the tofu until it’s a rich sauce.
“We believe that food is a big part of not only bodily health but conscious health. It’s a tradition that’s millennia old,” says Danny Thomas, Kalachandji’s manager. He’s bused dishes at the palace for 13 years.
Pre-iPhone age, the Kalachandji’s restaurant established itself with a health-conscious crowd that found the “hidden treasure” spot on Gurley Avenue thanks to a dedicated advertising campaign. You might have seen it in local papers like this one.
“I had to remind people we were here,” Thomas says of the palace and restaurant next to Samuell Grand Park. “The other thing that happened is the internet.” A slew of awards found Kalachandji’s after the web took off, and the restaurant no longer felt the need to advertise.
The dal — a silky textured soup, sunflower hued with turmeric, ginger, jalapeño and coriander powder — has always been a bright light at Kalachandji’s, and it still is. The yellow mung beans are whisked until smooth, crackling with mustard and cumin seeds and curry leaves. With a scoop of warm, textured rice alongside a spoonful of searing spicy pickle, you’ll feel two kinds of tears, caused by both spice and the emotional comfort of a perfect dish.
“All the spices that we use ... they’re not just there. It’s not a whimsical thing. It’s all medicinal as well," Thomas says.
Kalachandji's, 5430 Gurley Ave.
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