Hours: 11:30am-8:30pm Monday-Sunday; Closed Tuesday
Chief among my Orlando restaurant crushes has been Woodlands, the vegetarian Indian restaurant on South OBT. It was the only alternative I knew to fighting the tourist hordes down on I-Drive when I need a masala fix. The atmosphere falls somewhere between fancy and casual ' no need to dress up, but you won't be chasing your chickpeas around the plate with a plastic fork, either. The fact that Woodlands is purely vegetarian is a big plus, too: I'm not, but my usual dining partner is, and restaurants that serve meat sometimes get slapdash with the veggie dishes. Little did I know that there's been a gem twinkling away just around the corner from Woodlands all along.
In fact, Khasiyat has been open longer than Woodlands, according to owner Bhanu Chavda. Hidden away on Lancaster Road, a few blocks west of Orange Blossom Trail, Khasiyat is stuck between a Mexican market and an Indian music/DVD store. If you didn't know it was there, you'd never run across it. Bigger cities than ours don't have two excellent vegetarian Indian restaurants to choose from ' we should consider ourselves incredibly lucky.
Khasiyat is decidedly casual. Food is served on styrofoam dishes and eaten with plastic cutlery; you order and pay at the counter. The room is spacious but very plain, dominated by an enormous flat-screen TV. Satellite service supplies Bollywood musicals in a steady, mesmerizing stream. (Even with the sound turned down ' or perhaps because the sound was turned down ' we were enthralled.) They offer an inexpensive buffet of Northern Indian specialties and three different Southern Indian thalis (sampler plates), but the real strength of the menu is the vast assortment of snacks. Fully two-thirds of the menu is devoted to appetizers and 'bites.â?�
I vaguely remembered OW's resident expert on all things Indian, Jason Ferguson, waxing rhapsodic over a street food called bhel puri. I spotted it on the 'bitesâ?� section of the menu, surrounded by several other similar nibbles, and we decided to give it a try ($3.99). After a brief misunderstanding ' we almost got a poori (puffed flatbread) instead ' a bowl of what looked like broken ramen noodles and Kix cereal was placed in front of us. One bite, though, and we were hooked. The mixture of puffed wheat, sev (Indian noodles) and tiny diced potatoes and onions, brightened up with fresh cilantro leaves and a hint of chili, was a perfect balance of crunchy, soft, salty and spicy. Absorbed as we were in trying to untangle the plot of the muted musical, if they had put a bathtub full of this stuff in front of us, we probably would have finished it.
The other big hit was the dosa we ordered. Dosai, if you haven't tried them, are huge, paper-thin savory pancakes, sometimes filled. And when I say huge, I mean huge ' our masala dosa ($4.49) was at least 18 inches across, and we ordered the regular, not the 'largeâ?� ($5.99) or the 'oversizedâ?� ($6.99). Because they're fried on the grill, sometimes dosai are greasy ' in the most delicious way, of course ' but this was crisp, not at all oily. The potato-and-onion filling squished pleasingly under the crackly wrapper, accompanied by heavenly coconut chutney.
I went in knowing that I had to try the buffet ($5.99), because I felt obligated to try the most commonly ordered dishes. The spread satisfied: rice, dal, four curries (the sag paneer was especially good, with bursting kernels of fresh corn) and several sweets. But, tasty as it was, I'll stick to the dosai and 'bitesâ?� next time. I think I have a new Sunday-afternoon ritual: bhel puri and Bollywood.
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