It would be hard to spend as much as $10 a person at Siddhartha. And it is hard to remember that this is a vegetarian restaurant, for the tastes and textures of this Indian cooking are so varied that you forget it is operating under constraints.
While the service is cafeteria- style, the dining room has more charm than you would expect from a cafeteria. And the menu is flexible enough to serve everything from feasts to snacks -- in fact, one whole section is titled In Between Meals. There are various stuffed fried things -- samosas, bhajiya (doughnut- shaped onion fritters), stuffed poori and mashed potato fritters. Then there are the paper- thin rice pancakes called dosas, topped with various vegetable curries and chutneys -- and the dumpling-shaped steamed version, called idli. With all that you haven't even tackled the curries or the condiments. If the menu is too confusing, to aid your decision you can have a combination platter, a Mini Meal, a Curry Meal or a Complete Meal -- which are trays filled with little samples of things fried, stewed and steamed. Then stop by the condiment table for sweet and tart chutneys and sauces. And try a yogurt drink with mango, or a salted spiced version. The refrigerator case also displays a wide assortment of desserts, but they are more an ode to sweetness than to delicacy.
Siddhartha's food reminds you that vegetarian dining can taste far from deprivation rations. 908 Thayer Ave., Silver Spring. 585-0550. L, D $2.50-$7. L, D daily. No credit cards. No liquor.