On Friday, two coworkers and I took a trip down to Chai Pani, an indian street food restaurant that opened earlier this year. Chai Pani is an Asheville, North Carolina original, and this is the second location bringing organic, fresh, locally sourced indian street food to southern americans.
I was pretty excited to go, because I have heard nothing but high praise about Chai Pani since it first opened. I had no idea the joint would also be super cute.
We easily got parking in front – which is a relief in downtown Decatur – and strolled right in. Like Farm Burger and others of its type, you order first and sit down. I have to say I am a huge fan of this trend. It just seems simpler and faster to me.
The interior is very open, bright and fun. There is a big lovely mural, and retro Bollywood movie posters. It’s very “in,” mixing metal and wood elements in a bright and airy space but classic, too.
I had a Lime Ricky, because I have been curious about them ever since I fell in love with “Consumption” by Sunshine O’Donnell in college.* Turns out it’s not my thing, but that’s okay. It was pretty and I’m sure it was made perfectly.
For the food, we ordered family-style and had my indian coworker Anish take point ordering. For the three of us we got sev potato dahi puri, kale pakoras, corn bhel, Buttered chicken curry with daal and naan, and a Sloppy Jai. This was plenty for the three of us… I was uncomfortably full all afternoon!
The dahi puri was really interesting. It’s kind of like a potato dumpling that you poke a hole into to insert filling and cover with sauces and toppings. The corn bhel is the filling that goes in the dahi puri. I enjoyed them both, and though I was more comfortable just spooning the bhel into my mouth sans potato shell, I liked the more complex and slightly spicier flavors that came in the sev potato dahi puri.
I was glad we got the kale pakoras because I enjoyed the pakoras at Tantra so much, and wanted to compare. Plus, Decatur really is such a hippie town and kale is such a hippie-associated veggie that the concept of kale pakoras at an indian joint in downtown Decatur really tickled me.
They were amazing. I think I ate most of them. Totally poppable, with great textures. I highly recommend them.
The buttered chicken curry with daal and naan was a solid choice. I was feeling adventurous and used some of my naan to experiment with the mystery condiment on the table. Spooning just the sauce, I wasn’t quite sure yet how I felt about this spicy and sour stuff, but after biting into one of the chunks of vegetables I spooned from the container, I knew I was out of my depth.
Some research and help from social media revealed that the stuff was mango pickle. I am intolerant of mango, and thusly avoided the mango dishes on the menu… but not the table, ha. Until I learned this, I was blaming Chai Pani’s food for making me feel sick all afternoon, but I think it was just my unwitting ingestion of mangoes. Oops!
Oh, also maybe the fact that I ate a pound of those fried kale pakoras could have been at fault. Anyway…
The Sloppy Jai was not only a “punny” dish but a tasty one, too. It was my favorite thing after the kale pakoras. Other than lamb and some sauces, I am clueless as to what all was involved in the dish, but it is great stuff.
My coworkers were kind enough to share their thoughts and ratings with me. Here are Anish’s thoughts on Chai Pani (thanks to him for sharing them): “Indian food is usually seen as overly spiced and too heavy. This was neither. I haven’t tried a ton of indian joints in Atlanta but the ones I have aside, from one or two, have been ‘ehh.’
“It’s refreshing to see a restaurant like this that serves good authentic food in a welcoming environment. To me, there really wasn’t a bad dish out of the ones we sampled. I think at their core the dishes are relatively traditional and the restaurant does a good job of making them light, shareable, and seasoned just right. Overall, I would give Chai Pani a solid 4. Definitely closer to a 4.5 than a 3.5 though.”
Teck’s thoughts: “Fun and whimsical decor – love the open space and classic indian movie posters. The food was as good if not better than the decor. Nice variety of dishes and the quality of the ingredients and the preparation was as good as any indian restaurant in the ATL. 4 stars and I will be back for more!”
I share their sentiments. My only further comment is to emphasize that this is definitely street food. I know I have mentioned that several times, but I am thinking specifically at the moment of the glorious kale pakoras. As much as I adore them, if I ordered them for lunch and ate the whole thing I would probably die. Or feel like I was going to. Or wish that I had. Whichever. Point being, the food is best shared and backed up with something less fried, like one of the salads or a special like the buttered chicken that was available when we were there.
Chai Pani is a great little joint that seems to be at once both true to the ethnicity and intrinsically Decatur (despite originating in Asheville – no wonder I always hear Decatur folks talk about how much they love Asheville). It has great atmosphere and energy, good pricing, and damn good food that you can’t get anywhere else around. 4 stars.
Edit: Hi folks! I have another post about Chai Pani that discusses some other food and drink from this great little joint. Check it out here.
406 West Ponce De Leon Avenue
Decatur, GA 30030
*Here is the Amazon link for the book containing “Consumption,” one of my favorite short stories of all time, The Best Creative Nonfiction, Vol. 1, and the disclaimer to go with it: the owner of this website is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking spatialdrift.com to Amazon properties including, but not limited to, amazon.com, endless.com, myhabit.com, smallparts.com, or amazonwireless.com. I always link to products I use myself and I will always label these links for you, so you don’t have to click without prior knowledge.