Atmosphere: Self-service Indian vegetarian.
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Price range: $2.75 to $6.50 for complete meals.
Reservations: Not accepted.
Credit cards: Cash or checks only.
Special facilities: Highchairs and booster seats; ample metered parking behind building (free at night); employes will help carry wheelchairs up the few stairs in front.
When friends reported that their family of four had eaten a delicious Indian meal in Silver Spring for only $14, we got out pencil and paper. As it turned out, both the restaurant and the location were familiar.
For several years, Siddhartha was a lunchtime haunt of District employes who flocked to enjoy the $2.75 "mini-meal" of rice, curry, bread, tea and chutney. In July, however, renovation plans forced this Indian vegetarian institution out of its downtown location two blocks from the White House.
It's now located in a Silver Spring building where restaurants (most recently the Thai restaurant Rama) have come and gone with such alarming frequency that you have to wonder whether there's a curse on the building or it's just a lousy location.
Though only half a block from the Silver Spring Roth movie theater on Georgia Avenue, it's not the sort of place you're likely to spot unless you're going there specifically or are shopping at the Thai Market next door. Siddhartha was two-thirds full the two nights we ate there, so perhaps the curse is broken.
Siddhartha is definitely a no-frills experience. You stand in line at the counter, sorting through the menu to see if you can find anything recognizable to order, then place your order and pay your bill. Perhaps 10 minutes later, your number is called and you pick up your food a little further down the counter and carry it back to your table. Food is served in styrofoam dishes with plastic utensils.
Although the system works pretty well, you should take notes about what you order -- not only so you can identify it later, but also because you sometimes don't get part of the order (particularly the drinks, but also the dessert, which you pick up from a cooler). The staff is quick to fill missing items and keeps track of what has been ordered, but it's not a flawless system.
For $6.50, you can get a complete meal, which includes five pooris (small puffy rounds of deep-fried bread) or two parathas (a grilled pancake type of bread), pulao (seasoned rice), sambhar (a spicy lentil soup similar to dal), a vegetable curry (from a selection of nearly a dozen), raita (cucumbers in a cool yogurt sauce), papad (a crisp wafer), a pickled condiment, a mild but pleasant chutney, tea or coffee (which you must specifically ask for), and a selected dessert.
The "curry meal" ($4) gives you a vegetable curry, rice, two pooris, raita, a "snack," papad, chutney, and tea. The mini-meal ($2.75 and popular at lunch) gives you either poori or paratha or rice, with half a bowl of a vegetable curry, served with papad, chutney, onions and tea.
I've had better versions of the breads we tried, but they were certainly acceptable in this price range, and the curries and side dishes were surprisingly tasty and not too spicy for the children. We particularly liked the curried eggplant and a spinach and cheese dish in which three cubes of a uniquely Indian cheese contrast nicely with a generous amount of spinach.
Our friends had made a meal of the $6.50 and $4 dinners. We opted for more variety by ordering the $6.50 meal and supplementing it with an assortment of a la carte "treats." Among those the whole family enjoyed was the crisp salty pancake stuffed with an onion potato curry (we regretted ordering only one), idli sambhar chutney (three spongy rice cakes you dip in curried lentils), and bhel poor (a delicious mildly fruity tasting mixture of cold rice, small noodles, and chopped onions mixed with two kinds of chutney).
Among desserts the children particularly enjoyed were the jilebi (an orange sweet shaped like a pretzel) and kheer (an offbeat creamy rice pudding).
Siddhartha serves no beer or wine. Interesting drink possibilities include lassi mango (a mango-yogurt drink) and the sweet and delicious masala milk, flavored with almonds and pistachio.
Our very generous meal came to $19.18, but we are hearty eaters and were starving when we arrived. Not many foursomes would spend more than that, and quite a few would spend less.