A football-field-sized strip of road connecting Broad and Parham could be dubbed Richmond's Little India. Two restaurants, a market and a movie store take up most of a strip mall that caters to a largely Indian clientele on Old Parham Road.
You can get the fresh and dried ingredients to whip up any curry, daal or rice dish at the market Laxmi Palace. Mountains of bagged rice varieties line a wall; jars of chutneys and pickles line up like tourists at the Taj Mahal. Most items are a lot cheaper than at larger groceries in town. There's also a freezer case filled with a range of Indian breads and prepared meals.
Next door, Shish Kebab offers a palatable A la carte and buffet menu of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani food in a restaurant run by Bangladeshi brothers. It's tall on flavor, short on atmosphere. In fact, that's true for all of the shops on Old Parham Road. The Indian Cinema House rents the latest hits from Bollywood and beyond, and is part of the draw: Dinner and a take-home movie are just steps away.
The most interesting, eclectic and perhaps unusual of the lot is the Indian Pastry House, an experiment in Indo-French fusion. Imagine an Indian lunch cart crashing into Jean-Jacques Bakery. A glass case at the back of the restaurant is filled with cakes, pastries and cookies. But the croissants and puff pastry are deceiving. Instead of chocolate or marzipan, fillings lean toward the savory and spicy curries. The bakery's interior is a bit spartan, with little atmosphere other than a flat-screen TV in the corner playing Bollywood videos. It's a fine spot for a quick lunch and an even better destination for picking up some treats to take home.
Success has come quickly to this concept. Indian Pastry House owner Shiva Pillai has franchised the business and has three additional locations in California. Here are some reasons why:
Dosas: These South Indian specialties, rice and lentil pancakes filled with meat or veggies, are served with a spicy sambar (tamarind-laced lentil and onion sauce) and coconut chutney. The flavors range from the mild cheese dosa, an Indian version of a quesadilla, to the fiery onion and hot-chili version. $3.99-$6.99
Pizzas: While the crust is average, the toppings are a unique remake of classic food. Chicken tikka pizza combines spicy bits of chicken (tikka means bits or pieces) with cheese; other versions feature potatoes, the popular Indian paneer cheese and tomato gravy. Unexpected and wonderful. $3.99-$5.99
Croissants and puffs: Unexpectedly filled with chicken curry or veggies, these combine light, airy pastry with the rich, complex heat of an Indian curry. $1.79-$1.99
Dabeli: A slightly sweet yeast roll filled with potatoes, onions, mint and peanuts, with a ring of sev — tiny, spicy chickpea noodles that create a visually amusing border. It's not a light sandwich for a garden party. $2.99
Chaat: The Spanish have tapas. The Greeks have mezze. Indians have chaat. These snacks are street food at its best. Indian Pastry House has several varieties, including bhel puri, pani puri, papdi chaat and sev puri. Flavors include coriander, mint, yogurt and tamarind, and mix some combination of puri (whole wheat bread), potatoes, onions, tomatoes and chickpeas. They're fantastic snacks that juxtapose deep heat with the freshness of mint and cilantro. $2.99-$3.99
Desserts: Cakes are light and fluffy and come by the slice (Black Forest, butterscotch and pineapple, among others, starting at $2.49), and as sheet or round cakes for parties and weddings. Other sweets include chocolate mousse, tiramisu and traditional Indian cookies.
Indian Pastry House
3409 Old Parham Road
Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.