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Cheap Eats

Great South Indian fare in out-of-the-way Burlington spot

Goat biriyani.Wendy Maeda/globe staff
Chettinad Grill chef Bala Arumugam.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

In the Internet age, it’s tempting to think there are no more hidden gems, until you happen on a place like Chettinad Grill, in an off-the-beaten-path location in a nondescript Burlington strip mall. But it has been discovered, by a slew of online reviewers who decided to write scathing reports. After visiting the charming South Indian restaurant, suggested to us by a South Indian friend, those reviews are off the mark.

Chettinad Grill opened in February, replacing The Bombay Club, a fact they tell you when you walk in. Chef Bala Arumugam, was born in the Chettinad region of South India, where the food tends to be spicier and lighter than in the North. Those dishes are on offer here, in a stunningly wide selection. There are enough dosa, biryani, and Indo-Chinese dishes (popular in the south) to make your head spin.

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But rest assured, Arumugam is just as happy to bring you a richly flavored version of the ubiquitous, brick-red chicken tikka masala ($15.99), if your tastes require something more mild-mannered than, say, the fiery special of the day, Anhdra goat dum biryani ($15.99). The biryani is mostly rice, with perfectly fluffy individual grains, coated with fragrant spices bloomed in oil, and flecked with bits of tender goat meat. But what you don’t realize, because it catches up with you a few seconds after it’s crossed your lips, is that the dish has a sneaky heat. Happily, the waiter (or is it manager? or chef? all take a turn checking in with our table; we are practically the only ones in the restaurant, and are surrounded with attentive service) brings us tastes of sweet and tangy mango lassi ($3.50) to tame the burn.

A note about that service: Non-Indians may be nudged in the direction of naan and subtler spices. When we overhear other diners assert their food-intolerances and allergies — unsmilingly, within seconds of being seated — it’s understandable that the staff may err on the side of caution. One of the best ways to make your way through the dizzying array of dishes is to visit during the weekend lunch buffet ($13.99). On Saturdays and Sundays, you can sample dozens of dishes, from Chettinad chicken curry ($14.99) in a light masala gravy and Chettinad vegetable korma ($11.99), a hearty vegetarian stew, rich with cashews and coconut milk, to a bright and slightly acidic green yucca curry that’s not found on the menu.

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The lunch buffet including tandoori chicken and goat korma, among others.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Idli 65 also appears on the buffet, but not on the menu. The bright red, supremely addictive fried rice/lentil-bread cakes pair well with the assortment of slightly bitter chutneys on offer. Chettinad grill has a way with bread. Masala dosa ($8.99) is an enormous paper thin, golden pancake with frilly, crisped edges that jut half a foot off the plate. It comes with turmeric-stained, mustard-seed speckled potato puree, a thin vegetable curry, a toasted chile sauce, and a green cooling coconut mixture. Favorites like garlic naan ($3.99) are unusually crisp on the bottom with nice chew. Poori, the deep-fried wheat bread, is perfect for dragging through puddles of sauce on the plate. Medhu vada ($5.95), the small savory lentil doughnuts, are delightful; dip them in any of the curried offerings on the buffet.

Do not leave without sampling some Indo-Chinese dishes, which blend the heady spices of South Indian cuisine with the umami notes of Chinese food. Gobi Manchurian main ($12.99) is a mound of fried cauliflower fritter, tossed with a punchy sauce of tomato, garlic, ginger, soy, and vinegar, that has us popping one after another into our full bellies.

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And then there is dessert. Madurai jigarthanda ($7.99) arrives in a wine glass, a layered concoction of sweetened condensed milk, floral ice cream (they tell us it’s not rose, but won’t say what it is) pistachios, and chia seeds. It’s beautiful, very sweet, and unlike any dessert we’ve tried.

Our meals at Chettinad Grill serve as an important reminder: Social media isn’t always the savviest way to find authentically delicious eats. Sometimes you have to go there and taste for yourself.

CHETTINAD GRILL

184 Cambridge St., Burlington, 781-273-0111, www.chettinadgrill.com. All major credit cards accepted.

Restrooms not wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $4.95-$7.99. Entrees $4.99-$17.99.

Desserts $4.99-$7.99.

Hours Daily lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-9:30 p.m.

Liquor None

What to order Weekend lunch buffet, Andhra goat dum biryani, gobi Manchurian-main, Chettinad chicken curry, dosa masala


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