Udipi Cafe in Monroeville has been on our radar for quite some time as one of the only places in the area to get delicious and authentic Southern Indian cuisine. We finally recently ventured out to this spot and we have to say, it's worth the drive.
While it won't win any points for atmosphere, this all-vegetarian spot serves up traditional dishes like dosa and Thali sets that transport you straight to India. Southern India, that is.
Udipi Cafe Focuses on Southern Indian Cuisine
So what's the difference between northern and southern Indian foods? Northern Indian dishes consist of richer, thicker curries that feature ingredients like tomatoes and onions, and they're served with breads like naan and roti.
It's the most common type of Indian food you'll likely see at restaurants in the area. Southern Indian food, however, is dominated by rice and lentil dishes and ingredients like curry leaves, coconut oil, and coconut milk.
Udipi Cafe's menu is large, and if you've never tried southern Indian food before we recommend ordering a little bit of everything.
The appetizer sampler is a good place to start – it comes with a few fried veggies, samosas, idli (a spongy rice cake), vada (a savory lentil donut), and pakoda (a potato and onion fritter).
These tasty bites are served with a spicy cilantro chutney, a sweet and tangy tamarind chutney, and sambar (a lentil and veggie soup). The idli and vada were perfect vehicles for soaking up the delicious sauces.
Another highlight of any southern Indian meal is dosa, and the selection here doesn't disappoint. Dosa are sort of like crepes, but they're made from fermented rice flour and rolled or folded around any number of spiced veggie fillings.
We ordered the masala dosa which was deliciously crispy and was stuffed with a potato filling full of flavor from Southern Indian spices like curry leaves and mustard seeds. It was served with more sambar and cilantro chutney for dipping.
Many Items to Try, But Go For the Thali Set
The other sections of the menu include uthappam (savory rice and lentil pancakes with all kinds of veggies), curries, and breads. But if you really want to try a variety of Southern Indian food, you should order a Thali set.
The idea behind a Thali set is that the meal provides a balance of six different flavors: salty, sour, bitter, astringent, spicy, and sweet. Consequently, these meals consist of eight or so little dishes surrounding a bowl of rice with bread served on the side.
The dishes include curries, dals, spiced veggie soups, pickled veggies, yogurt, and even a sweet pudding for dessert. Everything was flavorful but it was fun discussing our own personal favorites!
Throughout the meal the staff were very attuned to my tree nut allergy, which I was very appreciative of as it doesn't always happen when dining out. The waiters confirmed everything I ordered didn't contain nuts, and they even let me know that the dessert on the Thali set contained nuts, as well as the coconut chutney that's normally served with the dosa.
We know several people have complained about the service here, but we honestly didn't find anything wrong with it. The waiters gave recommendations on dishes and service was prompt and efficient.
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If you're looking for a restaurant that will intrigue your taste buds and get you trying different types of dishes than you'd normally try, we highly recommend checking out Udipi Cafe. The Southern Indian food is a delight and is unlike anything else you'll find in the region.
Udipi Cafe is located at 4141 Old William Penn Highway in Monroeville.
Looking to get out in nature before or after your meal? Head a bit further east to check out Boyce Park!