Serious Chaat

Anita Jaisinghani's Pondicheri is this year's best new restaurant.

You can order thalis at both dinner and breakfast. It's a highly recommended way to plunge headfirst into the breakfast menu here, as a thali contains a little bit of everything off the menu in addition to a soft paratha with a beautifully fried egg on top, frizzled edges looking like lace against the savory pancake beneath it. Break open the sunny yolk and let it coat the paratha, and you'll wonder why the ghee-laced flatbread isn't already more popular as a breakfast dish.

Even the smallest touches here resonate with intelligent design, demanding that like-minded restaurants step up and emulate these tiny details: A squirt bottle of simple syrup is available to sweeten your coffee or tea, instead of just plain granulated sugar that always sinks directly to the bottom. A fruit cup is lovingly composed of actual seasonal fruits — papaya, blueberries, plums, blackberries — instead of whitened, dried-out bits of melon. Basic yogurt with fruit is tinged with exotic, fragrant saffron. And the fat slices of toast served on the Texan platter at breakfast are alluringly fresh, crafted in-house just like everything else on the menu.

Eating at Pondicheri reminds me of something writer Lisa Fain recently wrote about Indian food on her blog, Homesick Texan.

At Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani is focusing on Indian street food like chaat.
Troy Fields
At Pondicheri, Anita Jaisinghani is focusing on Indian street food like chaat.

Location Info



2800 Kirby Drive, B132
Houston, TX 77098

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Lower Shepherd-Kirby


Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Sundays.
Kachumber salad: $5
Texas shrimp chaat: $10
Paneer-stuffed chicken legs: $15
Lamb mint burger: $12
Paneer veggie frankie: $9
Nightingale: $3
French toast: $7
Morning thali: $12

READ MORE: SLIDESHOW: Perfection at Pondicheri: Indian Meets Gulf Coast Cuisine
BLOG POST: Pondicheri: The Best New Restaurant of the Year

2800 Kirby, ste. B132, 713-522-2022

"When I first moved to New York City and discovered that the Tex-Mex was seriously lacking in this town, I embraced Indian food," Fain wrote. "Now, if you're not familiar with Indian cuisine that may seem bizarre. But Indian cuisine is rich with ingredients familiar to Texans, such as cumin, chiles and cilantro."

One recent afternoon, I called ahead to order a paneer veggie frankie and a lamb mint burger for lunch, saving the frankie — Pondicheri's version of a wrap, using roti flatbread — for a reheated dinner. I snuck one of those Nightingales into my order upon arriving, along with an oatmeal chocolate-chili cookie from the restaurant's bake lab, which concocts ever-changing pastries and savory pies depending on the season.

It was this buying spree that led to me eating three straight meals from Pondicheri — and all of it for only $33. The lamb burger came with Desi fries and the frankie with a bowl of fresh fruit. The burger was so enormous and the lamb so filling that I could eat only half at lunch, with a handful of the thick-cut fries under a fine sprinkling of powder that tasted vaguely of Bisto Chip Shop Curry. The rest went down easily with dinner that night, along with the large frankie, which I split with a friend over cheesy reality TV in my apartment.

The masala vegetable filling inside was thickly studded with soft cubes of paneer cheese. And the roti shell was neither too thick nor too thin, holding the whole thing together like an Indian burrito. My friend wondered over the thing, Indian flavors thoroughly adapted to Texan tastes and even structures.

And for breakfast the next day, I pulled that fruit salad out of the fridge along with the Nightingale, warming it briefly in the microwave. A night in the refrigerator and a minute in the microwave had absolutely no ill effects on the crust, which remained as splendidly crispy and flaky as it had come straight from Pondicheri's ovens. I was astounded.

I feel that way after every meal at Pondicheri, though: astounded. I am astonished by the path that Jaisinghani is blazing in Houston, making Indian food into high art that's still highly accessible. It's this tactic that was responsible for Indika's massive success, and it will assuredly be even more popular at the more low-key Pondicheri, where bottles of Kingfisher beer clink over plates of samosas, chaat and the occasional Texas shrimp salad with fresh beets.

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