India has dozens of exquisite regional cuisines, but most Indian restaurants serve the same mishmash of oversimplified Northern curries with a smattering of rice-based dishes from the South. Saravana Bhavan is guilty of this as well: You’ll find a tidy list of meat-free standards like palak paneer (cubes of farmer’s cheese in bland creamed spinach) and lacy, crisp dosas—the giant stuffed crepes made from rice and lentil flours. What elevates this place from other Indian restaurants actually hides in plain sight: “Saravana Special Meals: Limited Quantity” is the menu’s strangely Anglicized term for a thali, a round platter holding a dozen small portions of fragrant, expertly spiced curries and soups. The kitchen rotates through recipes from Tamil Nadu, the South Indian state where this small international chain began. You may find okra sauteed with mustard seeds and curry leaves next to creamy lentils, thick yogurt, and lemon pickle, all of which you can pile on top of the snowy mound of rice so the flavors mingle and intensify. A second Georgia location recently opened in Johns Creek with the same menu.
2179 Lawrenceville Highway, Decatur, 404-636-4400; 10820 Abbotts Bridge Road, Johns Creek, 678-684-6655, saravanabhavan.com