It’s been way too long since I’ve had lunch in a cafeteria-like setting. Too many bad memories of crusty baked chicken and limp canned corn on Styrofoam trays that I pick at meagerly during lunchtime in school, wishing I had brought some extra money for a toasty burrito sitting under the heat lamp. However, that didn’t stop me from visiting Vik’s Chaat, an Indian cafeteria restaurant connected to a market whose aisles were filled with so many wonderful spices they made your nose tingly when you first enter.
Before I had my first chaat, an orgasmic salad known as bhel puri that has all the textures you can possibly want, my Indian food knowledge contained only of curry. And roti, which I dipped in the curry. So upon discovering that chaat was a whole new genre of road-side savory snacks after my first encounter with bhel puri, I was ecstatic to learn that there was a whole restaurant dedicated to it 30 min away from my house. I grabbed Anne to try with me, which was perfect since Vik’s Chaat has a ton of vegan and gluten free options.
We grabbed a shiny plastic menu while queuing up in the long line, eyes switching from their blackboard hanging over the counter to the menu and back again (personally I was just afraid to miss out on all the options). My first choice was bhel puri followed with a masala dosa, while Anne ordered uttapam and a dahi batata puri. We both got a sweet and creamy mango lassi to go with the meal.
The bhel puri was incredibly fragrant and spicy. The mushy potatoes contrasted nicely with the puffed rice and sev (the vermicelli like crisps on top of the salad), and the onions, tomatoes, and coriander brought out a refreshing sweetness in the salad. If I could have only one salad for the rest of my life, this would be it.
The dahi batata puri was served cold, and each puffy puri shell was filled with a sweet mixture of mashed potatoes. The tamarind chutney was sweet and nicely complemented the creamy yogurt, while the sprinkle of spices added just a tad of fire. This choice is perfect for those who can’t take spicy food.
The utappam reminded me of a savory Korean pancake, but its texture was unlike anything I’ve tasted before. The best comparison that comes to mind was couscous mashed into a form of a pancake and then fried. Served with sweet and spicy chutney, as well as a milder bean paste like sauce, the pancake was delicious.
The mango lassi is a must-order if you ever visit. The drink was sinfully smooth and rich, bursting with tropical mango flavors. In fact, it was so thick and creamy that I feared it must be a calorie bomb (but thankfully they make it with yogurt). The dosa was possibly the biggest crepe I’ve ever seen (in fact Anne and I didn’t manage to finish it). Airy and crunchy, it was served with a simple side of sambar and the same mild bean paste that came with the utappam.
By the end of our lunch, we were both bursting, although I was sorely tempted to go stand in line again to inquire about the sweets displayed behind the glass counter. While it’s pretty far from where I live, I can’t wait to go back to try out all the other exotic items on their menu (I’ve already marked down paratha, aloo tikki, and dahi pakori). If you’re ever in Berkeley and want to visit an airy restaurant with great food, do pay Vik’s Chaat a visit. I guarantee you’ll love it.
2390 4th Street
Berkeley, CA 94710