The South Indian "Cafes" of Matunga
by Devorah Lev-Tov
24 February 2012
38 -B, Circle House, King's Circle
461, Durlabh Nivas, Bhaudaji Road
If you ask any Mumbaikar what their favorite South Indian restaurant is, the answer will inevitably be one of two places: Cafe Madras or Cafe Mysore. Incidentally, the two udipis are down the street from each other and are even owned by the same family.
King's Circle area in the Matunga neighborhood of Mumbai is known as the place to go for possibly the best South Indian food outside of South India itself: it's an easy train or taxi ride from downtown, and absolutely worth it. The ambiance is basic - both places are no frills, with simple tables, metal chairs, fast service from barefoot waiters, and cheap prices to match - but there's nothing basic about the food.
Madras Cafe is the more popular of the two, which means you often have to share a table with other diners or even wait for seats to become available. But once you sit down, all will be forgiven. Their idli butter pudi made with white butter will have you craving white butter with your idlis ever after. The rasam idli is also delicious with a good, spicy rasam and the upmas are yummy as well. And - something we really appreciate - the waiters can make recommendations and, if you ask nicely, will let you sample the dishes!
But if we were made to choose one of the two, our preference would go to Cafe Mysore. Aside from the fact that there is never a wait and they have an AC section (not that we wouldn't bear heat and wait for good food), their Mysore sada dosa and Mysore masala dosa are some of the best dosas you will ever eat. The Mysore chili paste coating the inside of the perfectly cooked dosa is delicious: not too spicy, but plenty of complex flavor. And the sambar and chutney the dosas are served with are just right.
For starters, try the hot rasam vada or the idli gadbad: two delectable idlis covered in gravy, curd, onions, and sev. Also recommended are the neer dosa, the onion uttapa, and the sheera for dessert or breakfast.
End your meal at either restaurant with South Indian coffee - a much better choice than any coffee chain's espresso or cappuccino.