The Christiane Chronicles: Where to find great Tamil cuisine in metro Atlanta

Plus, the major problem with restaurant leftovers
Chennai Express
Clockwise from top left: madras masala dosa, $8.99; mini thalis, $5.99; appam, $6.99; uttapam, from $6.99; rose milk, $1.99

Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Tamil Time
There’s no such thing as standard Indian food. The subcontinent boasts as many as 30 different regional cuisines, each influenced by distinct cultural, religious, and agricultural traditions. We’re lucky that Atlanta is home to so many of them, with restaurants specializing in Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Goan, Keralan, Jain, and Andhra food.

I recently found another regional specialty: Tamil cuisine, served at Chennai Express in Johns Creek. In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and its neighbor Sri Lanka, the cuisine is known for pancake-esque dishes like dosa and uttapam (one is thin and crisp; the other softer and thicker), as well as various idlis and vadas (savory cakes) served with chutneys and broths laced with chiles.

At Chennai Express, specialties like appam (a lacy, pure-white rice pancake shaped like a bowl) and idiyappam (a tangle of thin rice noodles) are soaked in fresh coconut milk or a brothy, aromatic vegetable korma. Kal dosa vadagari, a delicate medium-thick pancake served alongside lentil stew, is another must-order. Stop by on Wednesday or Thursday for all-you-can-eat dosa and appam night. Chennai Express has a strict no-alcohol policy, but try the neon-pink rose milk, which pairs exceptionally well with the aromatic cuisine.

July Christiane Chronicles
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

To go? Mais non.
Even in the best restaurants, I rarely finish what’s on my plate. Do I feel guilty about leftovers going back to the kitchen? Sure I do, and I’ve learned to ask for to-go boxes for hungry friends or homeless people in the neighborhood. But please, can we be done with Styrofoam, the little coffins made of waxed cardboard, and even the ecoconscious alternatives, which seem to be made
of porous materials that suck the life and moisture out of the food? Of course, some food just doesn’t last. Ramen coagulates within minutes. Fried food gets flabby. Salads are dead before they make it to the fridge. My one exception to the “no restaurant food in my refrigerator” rule: prime steak, which is too good and expensive to let go to waste.

This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.