Not all food trucks are taco trucks, nor are they gourmet food trucks serving lobster and foie gras in Montrose. There are plenty of mobile food units that occupy a space in between, and Tandoori Nite -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- is one of them.
Although it's technically a food truck, Tandoori Nite bills itself as a dhaba -- and it's the closest thing you'll find to a traditional dhaba in Houston, especially by virtue of its location in the parking lot of a Phillips 66 gas station along Highway 6. But what is a dhaba?
In India, it's the local version of a greasy spoon diner or a truck stop cafe. They're generally located next to or inside of gas stations and serve a variety of Indian and/or Pakistani fare to hungry, weary travelers. Because dhabas are located throughout India, you'll find them in every shape and size -- from basic, dirt-floored structures (indeed, the first dhabas were little more than mud huts) to sleek, modern dhabas that look like American convenience stores.
The dhaba above is located at the base of the Himalaya mountains, which is 1,600 feet above sea level.
This series of colorful dhabas is found in Gorakhpur, a city a bit larger than Houston in the eastern part Uttar Pradesh near the border with Nepal.
This dhaba is in the old part of Delhi, where photographer Carol Mitchell noted in 2008: "There is talk of trying to regulate the thousands of dhabas that provide food to millions of people every day. As Delhi rushes ahead toward the Commonwealth Games it is seeking to 'clean up' for the expected throngs who will visit. There is concern about licensing many of these small eateries out of business. These cheap eateries are essential to workers."
This is the famous "life saving" Chandra dhaba in Batal, Himachal Pradesh, which is known for saving the lives of people trekking into the Himalayas. This dhaba is located 12,500 feet above sea level at the base of Kunzum pass into the mountains, and can -- according to the Times of India -- "accommodate and feed 10 people for a couple of months." And has done so many times.
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Houston only has a couple of dhabas: Desi Grill and More, located in a Valero station parking lot on Veterans Memorial, which is run by Vinod Mehra. And Tandoori Nite, run by Mr. Mehra's son, which you can read more about in this week's review. It might not save your life on a snow-covered road to the Himalayas, but it can be a life-saver late at night on the far west side of Houston when only Indian food will do.