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Cheap Eats

A wide South Asian spread at Masala, with drinks

Chef Dammar Bdr Thapa creates such specialties as the Indian lamb dish rogan josh and Nepali-style steamed dumplings filled with spiced chicken (pictured).

matthew j. lee/globe staff

Chef Dammar Bdr Thapa creates such specialties as the Indian lamb dish rogan josh and Nepali-style steamed dumplings filled with spiced chicken (pictured).

There is no shortage of good Indian food in Cambridge and Somerville. Everyone we know has a favorite, from Dosa Factory to D’Guru (Guru the Caterer) to Punjabi Dhaba. But Masala in Teele Square, opened three years ago by Binoj Pradhan, has plenty to set it apart. Specifically, a full liquor license with decent cocktails, friendly service, and a freshly renovated space, making it the perfect place for a casual date or a girls’ night out, and it won’t blow your budget. Take a seat at the bar, or slide into a comfy booth. Where else in town can you get a $3 house Margarita with your curry?

Another thing that distinguishes Masala is the sizable Nepali section of the vast menu. It can be overwhelming to navigate your options, but ask the servers for suggestions and they will happily walk you through.

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We start with chicken mo-mo chilli ($10.95), Nepali-style steamed dumplings filled with spiced chicken. A plate of 10 neatly scalloped little packages arrives topped with a bright red, bell pepper- studded sauce that is reminiscent of a spicy ketchup (and tastes much better than it sounds). Our foursome is aggressive, everyone vying for the last dumpling. We wash them down with refreshingly tangy Golden Tamarind Margaritas ($6.50), and start in on the vegetarian platter ($7.95) from the appetizer section on the Indian side of the menu. It’s a generous combination of crispy pakoras, those spidery veggie fritters, samosas, the triangular Indian version of empanadas, and aloo tikki, deep-fried spiced potato patties. Everything is golden and crisp, and nothing feels too heavy here, which is always a risk when you order a plate of, essentially, fried starch. The platter also comes with pappadums and house chutney.

In addition, we order a side of mango chutney ($1.95) with big chunks of fruit, spiced and very sweet, and delicious on poori bread ($3.95). The whole-wheat dough goes for a dip in the deep fryer and arrives at our table puffed up like a balloon. Garlic naan ($3.95) comes out crisp on the outside, tender within. Watch the chef pull and shape dough through a stone facade-framed viewing window that looks onto the tandoor oven. Topped with garlic and cilantro, it’s some of the lightest naan we’ve tasted; it disappears almost as soon as it hits the table. We just scratched the surface of the dozen varieties of bread on offer.

We go for the ubiquitous chicken tikka masala ($12.95). The white meat chicken is a little overcooked, but the spicy tomato sauce is comforting and just kissed with cream. We prefer the chicken methi ($11.95) recommended by our server, which is perfectly cooked, in another tomato-based sauce with onion and fenugreek.

For the meat course, rogan josh ($13.95) has tender pieces of lamb in a thick herb sauce with a touch of yogurt. Khasi ko masu ($14.95) is a Nepali goat dish cooked in a saucy blend of masala spices and herbs. The flavor is deep and savory, but between the gristle, bones, and toughness of the meat, it’s not a dish we’d order again. For a satisfying vegetarian entree try navratan korma ($12.95), with nine vegetables including broccoli, peas, beans, squash, cauliflower, mushroom, and onions, in a mild creamy sauce that contains cashews and almonds.

Chef Dammar Bdr Thapa tells us the menu has recently been updated to introduce more Nepalese dishes, and that they are hitting their stride, with a solid management team in place. There’s talk of expansion and franchising into Boston. Affordable, interesting food, with accommodating and patient waiters? Sounds like a welcome addition to any neighborhood.

Catherine Smart can be reached at cathjsmart@gmail.com.
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