Skip Govinda’s and Head to India Sweets and Spices
I discriminate against no food. And, quite frankly, I don’t understand people who do. Well, that’s not entirely true. I understand why people do what they do. I just don’t comprehend the how of it. I guess what I’m saying is, I understand why somebody would want to be a Vegetarian (although admittedly I understand the pescatarian phenomenon less), I just don’t understand how you could not eat pork (could I be a swineatarian!?) That being said I totally don’t mind good vegetarian cuisine, because often the chefs are forced to make things *more* delicious because they can’t fall back on ingredients like pork belly, bacon, or lard. (“Those all come from the same animal!” “Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.”)
So when I heard there was a Saveur endorsed, $7 all-you-can-eat buffet, in a Culver City Hare Krishna temple, my love of cheap buffets overruled my love of pork. And it was off to Govinda’s.
I don’t want to get too down on Govinda’s because it is very popular, and there is no question that a lot of people will like it. If you are a vegetarian or a Hare Krishna, and are very concerned about eating healthy, I have no doubt you will love Govinda’s. In addition to their buffet (which is available by the pound, or as an all you can eat deal) they also have sandwiches and pizza available off to the side. Their salad bar is plentiful, and the warm dishes are interesting. But it’s too tasteless healthy tasting for me… and those of us who are looking for the best tasting food (vegetarian or not), will be far better served at Indian Sweets and Spices- right around the corner.
To me, Southern Indian food is vegetarian at its finest. Seasoned rices, spicy curries, delicious dosas… the food is so flavorful, the vegetables cooked so well, you don’t even miss the meat. And at India Sweets and Spices they’ve got it all, and the price is right. Don’t let the dump of a grocery store with the horribly hippy-ish sign fool you… their steam table is always stocked, and they have a nice menu of chaats, parathas, appetizers, and South Indian specialties that are made to order. It’s the real deal, and the best part is there are 6 different combo options so you can customize your lunch pretty easily.
The most popular combos are the first two. You get rice, two dishes from the steam table plus chapati or poori, and yogurt for $5.85. Add a samosa, pakora, and papadum (the big circular cracker-like things), and the price goes up to $6.25. Replace the chapati or poori with naan, and add a mango lassi (a yogurt and mango juice drink) and it’s $7.25. Something for everybody!
The steam table dishes change every single day, and often with dishes you’ve never seen before (hello jackfruit!). Over 2 visits we got to try a lot of what they offered, and while the steam table can be hit or miss the hits make it worthwhile. My favorite was their semi dry, kind of sticky, potato curry. One day it was served with cauliflower, another it was with okra- but both days it was delicious. Plus the saag (spinach dish in the upper right hand corner) had paneer in it (huge win for Indian cheese lovers!) If you don’t like spicy food, you’ll probably want to go with the dal… but overall it’s the most bland of all the offerings.
Samosas, pakoras, and vada (the doughnut looking thing) are never going to be perfect in a steam table situation- and these were no exception. The pakora was cold, and the vada was slightly undercooked. The samosa was probably the best of the three, but if you can’t resist I’d order it in the chan samosa (a $3 version topped with yogurt, tamarind sauce, chickpeas, onions, and more).
Or if pakoras are your thing I’d get them in a curry, if it’s one of the dishes they’re offering that day.
If you want a dosa they serve a “thali” for $6.25 featuring a potato one, plus idly (the white steamed bun seen at the top of the plate) or vada, lemon rice, sambar (a lentil base soup kind of thing you dip your idly or dosa into), one dish from the steam table, and a chutney. The dosa isn’t as crunchy or tall as a perfectly constructed specimen should be, but it tasted as good as everything else… and for $6.25 their thali special is a ton of food. Oh, and the lemon rice is great. It’s $1 extra on the regular combos- but totally worth it.
Sadly the bread leaves a lot to be desired. The chapati and naan are both pre-packaged. (There’s no way every cheap Indian place in L.A. serves this crappy naan right!? Somebody please tell me I’ve just had some bad luck…)
And, although the stuffed parathas are homemade they are a little on the bland side. Of course that’s nothing a dip in the yogurt can’t fix!
Finally if you’re already a fan don’t let the sign fool you. It says “Under New Management” but the food is the same as it’s always been. The chef is now also the owner of this location. (Not sure about the other locations around the city…)
I’m sure that India Sweets is not the best south Indian food in all of Los Angeles, and there might even be better Indian food (with or without meat) in the neighborhood (I’m looking at you Samosa House East). But if you work within a 10 minute drive of Culver City (or maybe you’re visiting the always awesome Museum of Jurassic Technology) and you’re considering hitting up Govinda’s for lunch… I’d try India Sweets instead. Recommended for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Indian Sweets and Spices, 9409 Venice Blvd (corner of Main/Bagley), Culver City, 310-837-5286