Indian street food star Chat Patti shines in Decatur

After more than 20 years in business, this restaurant is still a favorite
The counter at Chat Patti.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

When I was a student at Emory University, I discovered two things that would become fixtures in my life, both located in the same predominantly Indian shopping center off of North Druid Hills Road. One was eyebrow threading at the salon Hair Images (I’ll never wax again!), and the other was Chat Patti, a vegetarian restaurant specializing in North and South Indian food, as well as Gujarati-style dishes. It was one of the few places intown to get thali (an assortment of vegetarian dishes—think stewed lentils—served in a round stainless steel platter filled with small bowls) and chaat (street food).

After I graduated, visits to Chat Patti stayed a part of my routine. Golf ball-sized Pani Puri—a hollow, round flour crisp topped with ingredients such as mint water, chickpeas, onions, potatoes, and tamarind chutney—were easy to pop in my mouth one-handed when I had a new baby strapped to my chest. On cold winter days, the warming thali was an instant comfort.

Then, for whatever reason, I stopped going. The other day, I got a sudden craving my Chat Patti favorites and drove by only to find my beloved gone. With a bit of Googling, I realized the restaurant had relocated to Decatur two years ago—it had been that long since my last visit. Feeling like an idiot, I took the short drive to the new Chat Patti on Church Street.

The former Druid Hills space was well-worn after 20 plus years in business and no frills save bright coats of yellow paint on the walls. But that was part of its charm, and the food was colorful enough to light up the joint anyway. At the Decatur location, which opened two years ago in the Patel Plaza shopping center, father-son owners RK and Sunny Gangwal went much bigger. A free-standing glass display framed in green and white neon holds $2.99 bags of Farsan (snacks) such as Fulwadi (a spicy, crunchy chip-cracker hybrid made with chickpea flour and sesame seeds). The real showstopper is the massive picture menu hung behind the counter, which also serves as a display for the various vegetarian chat the restaurant sells. There’s also a case full of brightly colored Indian sweet treats and “classic Indian cold coffee” to complete your meal.

The Chat Patti Special Chaat and noodles.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

Thankfully, the quality of the food is unchanged. The cooking is just as vibrant and full of layered nuance as it once was. The Chat Patti special chaat—a stack of fried flour crisps topped with yogurt, tamarind sauce, chickpeas, cilantro, and at least a million other ingredients—looks like a cross between nachos and an ice cream sundae. When the whole lot is mixed together, it is tangy, crunchy, and kind of sweet. In Indian cuisine, there are many Indo-Chinese hybrids such as the salty, slightly sweet stir-fried noodles topped with cilantro (pictured above).

An order of the dosa.

Photograph by Jennifer Zyman

The 12-inch dosa (a rice and lentil crepe) was buttery and lacey; it was filled with potatoes and onions and served with a pale green chutney and a bowl of thin red vegetable soup.

While I will miss my neighborhood Indian vegetarian shop, the move to Decatur has breathed new life into this long-standing favorite. The picture menu makes exploration for first timers easy and can spark return visitors, such as myself, to try something new. Chat Patti is firmly back in my rotation, and this time, I won’t let two years pass before I visit again. 1707 Church Street, Decatur