The vegetarian cornucopia of North Indian snacks is not universally beloved, but it never was. When I reviewed Chaat Paradise back in 2006, it was popular for the cost-effectiveness of its "mini-lunches" and maligned for gruff service. Into its second decade, Chaat Paradise's pluses and minuses demonstrate a refreshing continuity.
We found the 2012 version to be pretty good. Lots of menu items, mostly tasty, no redundant sauces, reasonable prices.
And there have been improvements. First of all: a much better ventilation system. In previous eras, a meal at Chaat Paradise meant living with the smell of cooking oil in your clothes for the rest of the day.
The menu categories reek of positive attitude: "Mouth Watering Snacks," "Vegetable Delights," "Exotic Refreshments."
Also, the menu has expanded to include Gujarati dishes, such as a curry cooked with tomatoes and chickpea flour noodles ($6.50), and dosas ($6.99), the gigantic South Indian rice and lentil pancakes that are crispy outside, slightly spongy inside and also gluten-free. Chaat Paradise fillings range from nothing (plain dosa) to vegetables and potatoes, to, for some reason, American cheese.
"Mouth Watering Snacks" embrace the usual crispy samosas ($2.50) and fried pakoras ($5.25), but also the more unusual dahi dishes ($4.25). The dahi bateta sev poori is a perfect little appetizer, with two potato-stuffed puffballs resting in yogurt and chutney. It's a festival of crunchy, smooth, spicy and sweet. The Chaat Paradise chaat basket ($4.99) overflows with mini tostada-type shells stuffed with potatoes and garbanzo beans laced with sweet onions and cilantro.
Baigan bhartha ($6.50) is a rich, deep-flavored eggplant entree, baked to a smoky mash with garlic, onions and tomatoes.
Instead of providing a steam-table buffet, Chaat Paradise offers a wealth of ironically titled "mini-lunches." They range in price from $5.25 to $7.25, and leave you fully nourished by a wide variety of vegetable dishes accompanied by bread or rice. With maki di roti and saag ($7.25), you get two hefty cornmeal pancakes to dip in creamed spinach and in refreshing raita, yogurt flecked with carrots and cucumbers.
Oddly, a side order of roti ($1), the signature bread, was limp and cool.
Should you have the capacity or desire to end on a sweet note, the choices ($2.50) span rice pudding, ice cream and fried cheese balls.
Service tends to be a mixed bag. At lunch, one server was happy to answer questions. The other made himself scarce and seemed to resent being asked for takeout containers.
If you prefer to check out the website first, prepare for the repetitive sounds of hissing steam bubbles and string music that insists on starting over each time you click on a new page. Or turn off the sound.
165 El Camino Real, Mountain View
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
chaatparadise.com and freshroti.com
Reservations: no, except sometimes on weekends
Credit cards: yes
Parking: in Mountain View Shopping Center
Outdoor dining: no
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: medium-high
Wheelchair access: yes
Bathroom cleanliness: so-so
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