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100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 19, Dahi Puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan

The dahi puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan are like delectable little jewels.
The dahi puri at Shri Balaji Bhavan are like delectable little jewels.
Photos by Kaitlin Steinberg

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.

I don't think I've ever met an Indian dish I didn't like. That said, a lot of curries and stews tend to run together in my mind. Ruddy, spicy chunks of meat or cheese with lentils -- north Indian cuisine involves many variations on a theme. South Indian food does, too, of course, but there's one dish that always manages to stick out in my head as truly spectacular: Dahi puri.

Dahi puri remind me of little Fabergé eggs; it's their complexity and delicate nature. They're available all over the Mahatma Gandhi district in Sharpstown, but the best I've discovered come from a little hole-in-the-wall joint in a strip center between a sari shop and a halal meat market. It's Shri Balaji Bhavan, and it's arguably the best spot for south Indian cuisine in Houston, thanks in large part to the spectacular dahi puri.

They may look simple, but each bite contains a pop of flavor.
They may look simple, but each bite contains a pop of flavor.

One of the women behind the counter once explained to me that even within a particular region of India, the food varies greatly in amount of spice or sweetness added. She happens to be a fan of savory food with a little sugar, and that's exactly how they do it at Shri Balaji Bhavan.

Dahi puri is a traditional dish in which puri shells -- think golf-ball-size thin and flaky vessels, closer to flat than round -- are cracked at the top and filled with exotic chutneys and yogurt. Inside the shell is a single chunk of potato that appears to have been cooked in turmeric and taken on a yellow hue. On top of that is a bit of spicy green chutney heavy on the cilantro and a spicy red chutney with a slight chile pepper heat.

Then the sweetness is added in the form of a mild yogurt that fills up the shell to the top, before the whole thing receives a sprinkle of chopped tomatoes, fresh cilantro and sev, crunchy chickpea noodles broken up into small pieces (think instant ramen, only more flavorful).

The first time I ate dahi puri, I didn't know what I was getting into. I took a bite out of the shell, and liquidy yogurt and chutney spilled all over my hand and my plate. After that, I learned to stuff each tiny jewel in my mouth all at once, letting the flavors pop in my mouth with each crunch of the shell.

Even now that I know what to expect, that first crunch and release of flavors still manages to surprise me a little. And I just love being surprised by delicious food.

See the full list of favorites on the next page.

 

The list so far: No. 20: Fried Catfish and Cajun Crawfish at The Cajun Stop No. 21: Foie Gras Crème Caramel at Just Dinner No. 22: Roasted Pear Salad at Backstreet Cafe No. 23: Fluffernutters at Fluff Bake Bar No. 24: Som Tam at Vieng Thai No. 25: Chips and Queso at Fusion Taco No. 26: Spicy Miso Ramen at Soma Sushi No. 27: Kim Cheese Fries at Coreanos No. 28: Fried Cauliflower at Roost No. 29: Caesar Wedge Salad at Provisions No. 30: Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone at Fat Cat Creamery No. 31: Cochito con Mole Xico at Hugo's No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme

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Shri Balaji Bhavan Pure Vegetarian Restaurant

5655 Hillcroft St.
Houston, TX 77036

713-783-1126


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