Chai Pani is a newcomer to the Decatur food scene, one featuring Indian street food, and for the time being, very well received. It occupies the space in Decatur that Watershed vacated, the one next to Farm Burger. If you’ve not been to this part of the world before, please note it’s useful to take along ten or so quarters. A lot of the parking close to this restaurant is metered, and parking adjacent to the building hard to come by.

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Outside.

Inside.

Inside.

Mango lassi.

Mango lassi.

The style of service in this restaurant changes depending on when you arrive. If you go during lunch on a weekday, it is counter top service. You help yourself to drinks, cutlery, and a number is placed at your table for delivery. At night and on weekends, they have staff take your order at the table.

Okra fries. Recommended in general, reminiscent of good fried okra. Good for those with carb limits.

Okra fries. Recommended in general, reminiscent of good fried okra. Good for those with carb limits.

One thing I’ll mention up front is that this isn’t the easiest place for a diabetic to be. Most dishes are heavy in starch, and wraps and rolls tend to contain rice. All is not lost. The chicken burgers and lamb “sloppy joe”s are workable entrees and as a not-so-starchy side, I’d recommend Chai Pani’s okra fries. There are, of course, large dinner salads, that in our experience, are good.

Bhel puri. Puffed rice, chickpeas, flour crisps, onions and cilantro.

Bhel puri. Puffed rice, chickpeas, flour crisps, onions and cilantro.

Corn bhel. Also really tasty.

Corn bhel. Also really tasty.

The real draw here, are the chaat, the street snacks, a kind of eating I’ve not run into before. When I took my daughter and the bhel puri arrived, she said, “I’ve seen this served in a cone on television”. Both bhel puri and the corn bhel are reason enough to come here. A plate of this, some roti, a soda and a couple samosas would leave my wife happy as can be.

Sloppy Jai (lamb sloppy joes). The shoestring fries are excellent.

Sloppy Jai (lamb sloppy joes). The shoestring fries are excellent.

Chicken burgers, again, with those excellent fries. My wife finished the fries off.

Chicken burgers, again, with those excellent fries. My wife finished the fries off.

If there’s one consistent effect when you come here and eat, it’s that there is an amazing “first-bite-wow” effect when eating here. Americans aren’t used to hot Indian spices. They get the majority of Indian food from buffets, where all the aromatics have been steamed off the food. But here, with almost every bite, you get a hit of fresh spice, recently ground or cracked, and often cooked in oil or ghee to release the aromas and the flavors. This “hit” is what is so intoxicating about this place, especially when you first bite into a dish you’ve never tried before.

Kathi kabab roll, and bowl of daal., The daal runs a little thin.

Kathi kabab roll, and bowl of daal., The daal runs a little thin.

Papadam, a hand sized spicy cracker. The  other bread offering is roti, a tortilla sized unleavened bread.

Papadam, a hand sized spicy cracker. The other bread offering is roti, a tortilla sized unleavened bread.

Samosa.

Samosa.

What can we recommend? Almost everything seems good at this point. I wasn’t as pleased with the kabab wrap because it had more rice than I could handle for a meal, but the grilled chiken was excellent. Sloppy Jais I think everyone should try. The more timid maybe can go with a chicken salad, a samosa or two, and one of the bhels. Spend as much time as you can with their chaats, because those really are the star here. And oh yes, the beers here are good, with half a dozen respectable craft beers available.

I’m coming to think this is a great place to be introduced to Indian food. Have a friend who is a little picky? Take them here first, before throwing them into the whole of Indian cuisine. Yes, a tandoori chicken spot isn’t a bad first time spot either, but those are often mom and pops with a hole in the wall ambience. This place is clean, brightly lit, fun. Worst case, your friend has a glass of wine or a beer, nibbles at a chicken burger, downs some fries and maybe have a bite or two of a chaat, all in good fun.

Chai Pani is very highly recommended.

Chai Pani
410 West Ponce De Leon Ave
Decatur, GA 30030
(404) 378-4030

Chai Pani on Urbanspoon

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