Chowpatti caters to all types of eaters. Those with finicky palates, or in search of gluten-free, vegetarian and temperature-adjusted Indian fare, find sustenance here. Prices fall into the reasonable category, portions tend toward plentiful, and the food hits a strikingly fresh and light note.
The late Anil Kapadia and his wife, Niru, opened Chowpatti in Arlington Heights in 1982, naming the restaurant after a Mumbai beach they frequented during the height of their courtship. Nowadays, Niru and her two daughters, Sheha and Niyanta, run the business and do all of the cooking.
The interior exudes a pleasant tranquility with muted blue-green walls; 85 seats are divided among cozy booths. Closed blinds keep out the bright sun, yet decorative green brass ceiling lamps shower down gentle light. Our server, Niyanta, has just the right balance of efficiency and genuine amiability.
Midday Sunday finds an empty Chowpatti. At the end of our meal a couple with a young child take seats. A brief chat with Niyanta reveals that like many restaurants nowadays, Chowpatti struggles to pull in patrons despite its status as one of the few vegetarian eateries in the suburbs.
A mini-bible of sorts calls itself a menu, with chapters for Italian, Middle Eastern, American and Indian cuisine. Exceptional freshness and a bounty of vegetables dominate, as do the Indian treats. Appetizers, fresh soups, salads, entrees and sandwiches come in a wide variety of ethnic flavors.
Big spenders can choose between the house specialty, 12-inch pizzas, pav bhanji (meatless stew and cheddar), or chili (vegetarian chili and cheddar), for $23.95. For a bargain at $9.95, you can get entrees such as the Chowpatti veggie burger or garden veggie club sandwich, both accompanied by a choice of soup, chili, garden salad or fries.
Indian food holds court here so we opted for the samosas and "loaded Indian" nachos as appetizers. As with all of the fare at Chowpatti, you can decide the level of heat, choosing from seven options from very mild to extra hot. We selected mild across the board to please the more-timid palates in our group.
The samosas were flaky and delicately flavored, reflecting the fresh and minimal-oil cooking style laid down by the founding cooks. The nachos are crispy rounds made from whole wheat (or corn, upon request), topped with potato, diced onion, tomatoes, cilantro, noodles made from chickpea flour, and a blend of chutneys composed of dates, garlic and green chilis. Sweet and crunchy, these are fun for two or three people.
For a taste of North India we tried the thali combination platter. We opted for mild, which I found dull, but we liked the side of grilled, soft roti (flatbread), perfect for sopping up the aloo mutter (potatoes and peas in masala curry).
We enjoyed the plump green beans and peas in the steamed vegetable biryani (rice). Again, being one who enjoys a spice kick, I found this dish a bit flat, but my companions were happy.
Salads are simple yet refreshing. The cucumber, onion and tomato salad is a modest affair dressed with yogurt, salt and cilantro. The premium bhel is a bit stately, with chopped lettuce tossed with homemade whipped yogurt, green pepper, carrots, tomatoes and spinach.
Niyanta suggested the gulab jamun a la mode for dessert, and we ordered the vegan cinnamon roll out of curiosity. The gulab jamun proved a well-rounded finale - soft and chewy balls of dough covered in a smoothly sweet saffron syrup cut with thick and creamy vanilla ice cream. The cinnamon roll satisfied with its soft, chewy texture and not-too-sweet or overbearing taste.
Niyanta made for a gracious server, host and owner rolled into one. She expertly fielded our finicky eater's many questions, and made suggestions that pleased all.
Next time I'll bring along some spice lovers to heat things up a bit.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. Our aim is to describe the overall dining experience while guiding the reader toward the menu's strengths. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.