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South Indian cuisine heats up Woburn

Seema and Girish Vazirani, with their children Tvisha, 9, and Shaurya, 4, enjoy dinner at Godavari, which serves South Indian dishes.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe
Gobi Manchurian.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

For the longest time, most Indian restaurants in Greater Boston seemed to focus on North Indian cuisine with rich dishes like chicken tikka masala, saag paneer, and plenty of buttery garlic naan. Happily, spots focusing on the lively, spicier South Indian cuisine are popping up all over the place these days. Godavari, which opened in Woburn about two months ago (a sister restaurant will open this weekend in Raleigh, N.C.), is bringing the heat, and flavor.

The restaurant, owned by Babu Koganti and Teja Chekuri, is bright and spacious, with Bollywood videos playing on a TV mounted in the back. Indian-American families make up most of the customers, and it’s a very kid-friendly spot, with a limited children’s menu that includes noodles ($6.99), chicken wings ($6.99), both noted as not spicy, and a few kinds of dosa, the popular paper-thin crepes. The kids we saw on our visits dug into whatever their parents were eating, including a 4-foot-long dosa that would have stood about as tall as the child eating it.

Our paneer dosa ($9.99) was of more moderate proportions, folded around soft paneer cheese flavored with onion, mustard seeds, and other spices. It came with two mild dipping sauces, one creamy and green, the other sweet with tamarind, the whole dish as comforting as a grilled cheese sandwich.

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When we told our server we love the heat that South Indian food is known for, he listened. Our starter of Gobi Manchurian ($8.99) packed a punch, offering a big pile of fried cauliflower in an addictive salty-sweet sauce with a slow burn. We almost ruined our appetites taking down the plate.

The main event was off the Indo-Chinese section of the menu, which you’ll often find at South Indian restaurants. It offers a wonderful mash-up of flavors and cuisines, the type of fare you’d have for “Chinese takeout” if you lived in South India. The chicken bezawada street noodles ($12.99) combined the best of fried rice and lo mein, egg noodles tossed with thinly sliced bell and hot peppers, onion, bits of egg, and plenty of black pepper. The portions here are large.

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Onion pakoda.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

On another visit, we had some dining companions who just can’t take the heat. We let our server know, and the kitchen was very accommodating. Yes, that waiter couldn’t resist some good-natured teasing when we ordered the exceedingly mild butter chicken ($13.99), but what arrived at our table was a pleasing rendition of the dish better known as the ubiquitous tikka masala, with charred bits of meat in a creamy tomato sauce. Malai kofta ($13.99) don’t look like much, but the flavor of these brown vegetarian dumplings is divine, a savory mix of cauliflower, carrots, cashews, raisin, and cottage cheese, swimming in a rich and creamy, khaki-colored curry sauce that has a lingering heat. With vegetarian dishes this flavorful, the most carnivorous eaters won’t miss the meat.

Poori masala ($8.99), a fried and puffy flatbread, is both crisp and chewy, delicious dragged through curry or dipped in its own accompanying mild, sunny yellow potato-pea stew. Onion pakoda ($6.99) beats most onion rings we’ve tried; the spider-shaped fritters are fried up golden and crisp. “Royal” biryani, which appears on the menu as Hyderabadi mutton dum biryani ($12.99), is grand in appearance with white, yellow, and even orange-hued rice accompanying fiery bits of meat. The more sensitive palates in our party could barely take a bite, and the rest were too full to wrestle with the chewy, heavily spiced mutton.

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We only managed to visit for dinner, but we eyed the impressive setup for a sprawling buffet that’s served every day at lunch. We’ll be coming back with big appetites (and maybe an antacid) to delve deeper into this South Indian cuisine, which, here in the Northeast, is finally getting its due.

Godavari

9 Cummings Park, Woburn, 781- 935-6060

www.godavarius.com. All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers $2.49-$13.99, Entrees $7-$13.99

Hours Mon-Fri lunch buffet 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Sat-Sun lunch buffet noon-3:30 p.m., dinner 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Liquor None

What to order Gobi Manchurian, onion pakoda, paneer dosa, malai kofta


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