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Equally spicy is the Manchurian dosa, which, in spite of its name, bears little resemblance to classic Chinese food. Traditionally, it's served with chicken in Manchurian sauce, but The Dosa Factory maintains its vegetarian concept by replacing chicken with batter-fried chunks of cauliflower. After eating dosas filled with Manchurian sauce, gobi Manchurian — like the filling of the dosa but somehow better — and steamed rice cakes doused in Manchurian sauce, I've decided it's my new favorite condiment. Move over, Sriracha and gochujang. This sinus-clearing combination of sambal chile paste, ginger, garlic, tomato sauce and soy sauce amps up the heat and complexity of already savory fried cauliflower and sour rice cakes.
The gobi Manchurian is one of those dishes that make people halt at your table and ask what you ordered so they can do the same. It's a common vegetarian dish in southern India, and even here, in the heart of steak and barbecue country, it's become a hit, thanks to that addictive, almost-too-spicy-but-not-quite sauce that coats every cauliflower floret in a sticky layer of bright red gravy.
More familiar to American audiences are the samosas, fried puff pastries filled with the popular medley of potatoes, peas, carrots, onions and cumin, listed on the menu along with gobi Manchurian as "taste bud ticklers." There's also a small section for vadas, fried lentil cakes shaped like doughnuts, and idlis, the steamed rice cakes that are, by themselves, unseasoned and bitter, and thus cry out for more Manchurian sauce, more sambar, more cooling coconut chutney.
5959 Richmond Ave., 160
Houston, TX 77057
In this sense, it's the sauces that make the dishes at The Dosa Factory. The dosas filled with anything labeled sauce or gravy — even the pizza one filled with tomato sauce — are the most memorable items, and the sambar offered gratis with every meal is thin enough and flavorful enough that you could easily mistake it for soup and be quite pleased to down an entire bowl all on its own. There are chilled silver bowls filled with a rotating menu of chutneys on a table next to the sambar, though I'm told the coconut is always available, which is a good thing, because it, too, is a complementary addition to nearly every dish.
Nobody's perfect, though, not even this place, which bests many more upscale and authentic Indian restaurants in town but falls a little short when it comes to traditional accompaniments like drinks and dessert. Tang-colored mango lassi tastes like store-bought mango yogurt and is lacking the refreshing acidic bite that comes from fresh mangoes, and a chai latte is sorely missing the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves that make the spicy-sweet drink so appealing to tea fanatics like myself.
Gulab jamun, fried balls similar to doughnut holes but without the glaze, are made with flour instead of the more typical powdered milk and are served swimming in a pool of syrup that tastes like sugar and not much else. A chocolate mousse cake feels out of place on a menu of Indian street food, and though it's not bad, it's more reminiscent of a frozen pie from a grocery-store freezer section than real chocolate mousse. I'd eat it in bed with a fork, straight out of the box, but it doesn't make me think of India and the bustling streets of Mumbai or New Delhi like a crispy, steaming dosa dipped in ruddy sambar does.
Though the crowds aren't what they were when The Dosa Factory first opened, the momentum of the small fast-casual eatery isn't dying down. It was recently named by Urbanspoon one of the top new restaurants of 2013, along with big names like Coppa Osteria and The Pass & Provisions. The owner is hoping to start franchising soon, and the service is faster and the food seemingly more flavorful every time I go.
In the rather unscientific analysis of restaurants that led to Urbanspoon's list of the best in 2013, the website determined that fine dining is on the decline, with 70 percent of its roundup made up of spots in the $15-and-under-per-person price range. The Dosa Factory fits squarely in that category: A large dinner for one comes in at right under $15. For $7.49 you can get one of the myriad dosas, which is enough food for a satisfying meal.
If you get your order to go, you can take it away from the harsh white tables and green walls and serve it at home, with a tablecloth, china and a bottle of dry white wine. Because in truth, The Dosa Factory is ostensibly a fast-food restaurant, but based on the quality and complexity of the food, you'd never know it.
Based on this review I rushed over to the Dosa Factory. I have to say, I as underwhelmed by the food. It is the brightest Indian food place I have ever eaten in but it is very bland compared to Udipi and a few other places up and down Hillcroft. I tried the gobi Manchurian, the corn dosa, mixed spicy dosa, and a few other things and none of it had much flavor or texture. Briyani Pot's gobi is far better as is the Manchurian corn. Udipi's chutneys have far more flavor and the filling of the dosas also have more flavor and texture. Dosa Factory also does not have the wide array of chaats that are available at Udipi and a few other places that exude flavor. I see no reason to return to the Dosa Factory unless I want a brightly lite space to read.
How strange that we first noticed the sign yesterday, coming back from my b'day lunch at Confucius wondering what this place was all about! Now we're going for sure, thanks!
For my buck, masala dosa at Bombay Sweets cannot be beat.. I'm interested to see their interpretation here, hope it comes with the spicy lentil soup.
Can we be buddies and you take me tomorrow?
@gossamersixteen The masala dosa is not the best, but they all come with free sambal, the lentil soup you're talking about. And it's some damn good sambal.