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Spice Hut
OK, Newark might be a little far afield for something titled “Eating in Pleasanton”, but last night’s dinner was such a pleasant surprise that I thought I’d mention it here.

Earlier, I’d been out taking pictures with my new camera, mostly in Sunol and Niles, and by the time it got dark I noticed that it was after 8, and I was getting pretty hungry. There are a large number of restaurants in Fremont and Newark, and they’re spread all over nearly 100 square miles, and since I hadn’t planned to eat out I had no idea what I was hungry for. So I headed for one of the densest concentrations of interesting food, the Lion Foods shopping center at Cedar Blvd. and Mowry Ave. in Newark, not far from the NewPark mall.

The Lion Foods center, and the apparently unnamed adjacent strip mall, is an interestingly disorganized collection of restaurants, retail stores, and service businesses, all built at separate times, with correspondingly difficult traversal of the interconnected parking lots. (Unlike Milpitas Square in Milpitas, which burst on the scene all at once.) I’ve eaten at a few places there, most notably Vung Tau 3 (a good Vietnamese restaurant), the now-defunct Red Kwali (which moved to Milpitas), and Huong Lan Sandwiches. None of those seemed right, though, so I kept driving.

Chilli gobi
I passed into the neighboring strip’s parking lot, avoided the line-up of car’s at the Arby’s drive-through, and was about to exit the lot back onto Cedar, when the very last shop caught my eye: Spice Hut. It was brightly lit and full of people, and I vaguely remembered that it was an Indian fast food outlet. And that sounded good.

The menu is huge. (You can take a look at it on their web site, which offers an order-by-web takeout service.) There are appetizers, curries, dosas, biryanis, tandoori dishes, breads, Indian-Chinese “Manchurian” dishes, and a creation called the “nanini” (a sandwich on naan bread). I admit I held up the line a little bit while trying to decide, but everyone was very gracious.

I ended up ordering the chilli gobi (dry) appetizer from the Indian-Chinese menu, a Chettinad dosa, and wanted to try a curry as well. Most of the curries were in a steam table behind the counter, and I was hoping to avoid that, so I ordered a Madras fish curry, which would be made to order. I paid and was given one of those buzzing/talking coasters that summons you to pick up your order. (Admittedly, the place does not really try for ambience, but what there was was dispelled somewhat when, every minute or so, one of those things went off, with a loud buzz and a synthetic voice saying “Please return to the counter! Your food is now ready!”)

Chettinad dosa
My order was up very quickly, and even though it was served in styrofoam containers and paper plates, it looked pretty impressive. The chilli gobi looked fresh and had a wonderful aroma of garlic and chilis. The dosa was as large as those served in more formal restaurants, and the Madras fish curry — which took an extra few minutes — was fresh from the kitchen.

The chilli gobi — deep-fried cauliflower bits, mixed up with chilis, garlic, caramelized onions, finely-chopped vegetables, and spices — was insanely good, one of the best things I’ve had at an Indian restaurant anywhere. I can’t wait to try the chicken version. It was a dish worthy of any Indian restaurant, including my perennial favorites here, in London, and in Nebraska.

Specialties of the house
The Chettinad dosa was filled with a spicy mix of vegetables and potatoes. The mixture had been pre-cooked, unlike the chilli gobi, but it was still very tasty, as was the dosa itself. It came with a container of sambar, which was better than most, and small containers of coconut and spicy tomato sauces. The Madras fish curry was well seasoned, spicy, creamy, with a generous portion of fish.

I ended up finishing the chilli gobi, but took home well over half of the dosa, sambar, and fish curry, which will make a nice supper tonight. If you don’t mind eating in a brightly-lit fast food outlet (or getting takeout), Spice Hut is a great choice. I’m looking forward to returning to try some of the other dishes. There are presently four locations (Newark, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, and San Jose) but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all over the Bay Are, if not the country, pretty soon.