Starting with this post, I'm going to try to occasionally highlight my favorite restaurants in Vancouver. I'll call this series the 'top picks' series. These are the restaurants I go to on a regular basis because they're good, they're appropriately priced, and they are consistent at what they do.
I'm starting out with the well-known Vegetarian Indian buffet Saravanaa Bhavan on Broadway between Oak and Laurel. I tend to be skeptical of popular restaurants, because in my experience, more often than not, fame eventually gets to a restaurant's head, and they go downhill. Or popularity becomes an echo chamber in which crowds attract crowds, giving the impression of the restaurant being far better than it truly is.
Saravanaa Bhavan justly deserves all the praise that's been sung about it. I've been there probably almost 10 times over the years, and in a first in my entire life, rather than the food going downhill, it feels like the food only gets better every time.
Their buffet is always fresh and constantly renewed. The crowds help to ensure freshness. Every time I go there are some items I've never seen before. They have a huge variety of items on the buffet.
The interior is spacious without being well decorated. It's really a functional interior, with enough space to pack in large families of Indians. It was packed when we arrived on Sunday for lunch, and it stayed that way for most of our time there. Again, the place is frequented by Indians, testament to its authenticity. Having grown up a vegetarian in Houston, where there is a large population of Indians and many great vegetarian Indian restaurants, I ate vegetarian Indian food practically every week for a large part of my lifetime, so I know what good veggie Indian food is supposed to taste like. And apart from Saravanaa Bhavan, I haven't really tasted good veggie Indian food in Vancouver, though I've searched.
The food at Saravanaa Bhavan is very different from all the veggie Indian food I've had before. Perhaps this is because they are South Indian, or perhaps their cooks are particularly inventive. I don't know, but no matter how many times I go, they never let me down, with consistent quality and new surprises.
One of the best things about Saravanaa Bhavan is the variety of fresh breads. In addition to bringing you a fresh Naan, they also have these delicious lentil-based donut-like bread called Vada, amazing steamed rice cakes called Idli, some kind of deep-fried chapati-like bread, and even a whole fresh dosa. And of course, pappadum with great coconut chutney and tomato chutney. Everything is steaming fresh. This is what my plate looked like:
A crazy heaping mess of all sorts of amazing little items! That's why I love this place. I can revel in the delight of sampling all sorts of flavors, rather than slogging through a boring heaping mass of one dish with exactly the same flavor for the same price. I had about 12 separate items during this meal, every one of them perfectly delicious and totally unlike the others.
Even the desserts are amazing and unlike anything I've seen anywhere before. No gulab jamun in sight here. During our last visit they offered a curious spongecake-like confection infused with saffron juice and a wonderful substance that looked like tapioca at first sight but tasted nothing like the typical tapioca pudding dessert you find in Indian restaurants. They clearly are inventing their own new desserts.
Another great little touch is that each table has its own pitcher of water by default, so no having to stretch out that last quarter glass of water or struggle to get a waiter's attention to get some water. And anyway, the waiters here are everywhere and very attentive. Kweepo and I were asked no less than three times if we needed anything else.
The price for the buffet is $10.99 on weekdays and $11.99 on weekends. I don't know why the price increases on the weekend. The bill for Kweepo and I came out to $30 even including tips, which is admittedly a bit pricey for Indian food (I remember the buffets in Houston were $5). But it's hard to find good Indian food OR cheap Indian food in Vancouver, and Saravanaa Bhavan at least is reliably good and fresh, so I don't feel ripped off when I eat there.
I just noticed in the photo that they advertise a "$5 takeout lunch box". Now that's the price I want to pay for lunch. I will have to check this out.
I didn't know this until I checked their website, but apparently this is a chain. They have four locations total. The other three are all in Ontario.