There's a town in India famous for its briyani. It's a sprawling IT metropolis named Hyderabad, and people come from around the world to sample this ancient, soldiers-once-scarfed-it staple. Made with basmati rice, onions, saffron, lemon and various spices, the fluffy pile of starch is usually ladled with giant portions of mutton and served steaming hot with generous vessels of water. Spicy is the name of the game with Indian food, especially that which has a direct link to the City of Pearls.
What does any of this have to do with Chicago, you ask? Well, troll on down Devon Avenue and look for a tiny scrap of a building surrounded by junk cars and still warm cabs, and you'll have your answer. Hyderabad is alive and kicking in the side streets of Chicago, and my belly is a whole lot happier for it.
had the pleasure of dining at Hyderabad House Restaurant one afternoon with my buddy Brad. He was in a bit of a rage because I demanded that the only cuisine I would eat that day was Indian. No Mexican. No bar food. No alcohol even. Just spicy Indian and it had to be at somewhere new. Thankfully, he's used to my outcries of disbelief when it comes to the quality of food in non-ethnic neighborhoods, so he kinda got it. And, seeing as how I have turned him on to dozens of delightful dumps (usually with the tab on the house—meaning me), there wasn't much he could do but come along for the ride.
We both strolled into Hyderabad full of trash-talkin' attitude. If the cabbies loved it, then so would we. We silently screeched to a halt, inhaling the no-frills, paint-peeling atmosphere, and I quickly scanned the menu written on a dry erase board (and partially erased). What did it all mean? Every dish contained a new word, and we quizzed each other on what everything could possibly mean. The prices were so low, though, so I just set to ordering. How about an order of chicken paratha and a big plate of lamb briyani? Toss in a heaping bowl of mutton and you've got a feast fit for paupers.
The water cooler located across the room came in handy once we dug into our lunch. Searing mouthfuls of incredibly delicious chicken were instantly followed by huge chug-a-lugs of water, and tender bites of pillow-soft mutton were used as a slightly gentler tongue tamer. The waiter kept coming over to make sure we were OK, especially after I knocked over our water glasses in a desperate reach for salvation. What a mess—both in my mouth and on the table. But, lordy, what a beautiful mess it was.
We watched a steady stream of traffic—traditionally dressed families, neighboring auto repair customers and downtrodden degenerates alike—make their way to the front counter to order, while we scooped up big spoonfuls of fragrant briyani. So, this is the world famous briyani, eh? Something like a poor man's paella. I fell in love with every dish (and so did Brad) and we were both happy as clams when dessert made its way toward the table. Of course, I'd ordered all three made-in-house desserts. It's what one with a cauterized tongue does, no?
The Final Rave: The best dessert, bar none, is the icy cold kheer, a super-sweet take on rice pudding. You can even get it to-go.
Keep it going:
Eat it: Hyderabad House Family Dining
Locating within spitting distance of its sister restaurant, this outpost goes for the gold and livens up its dining room with a more formal vibe. Tablecloths, pitchers of water and still incredibly cheap dishes abound.
Read it: Yelp.com
The reviewers on this usually spot-on site killed my sweet Hyderabad. That MUST be because they want this gem to remain a secret. Sorry Charlie, secret's out!
Order it: Shan Food & Restaurant
Located in the back of a dusty grocery store, this Indo/Pak restaurant recently opened up a nicer version right next door. They do a brisk takeout business, and where else can you literally order half the menu for under $20? Rock of Love 2 never tasted so good.
Get crazy with it: Transitions Abroad
This is one of my favorite feel-good magazines, and its online version has loads of volunteering opportunities happening in India. Hyderabad, anyone?