Siddhartha, an Indian vegetarian restaurant, is a jeans-and-sweater place, the kind to visit when your budget is at a low ebb and your mood is adventuresome.
Be prepared for a no-frills operation in which you pick up your own food at the counter and eat it with plastic utensils in a brightly lit room whose furnishings lie somewhere between austere and shabby.
On the other hand, you can anticipate some very good Indian cooking, and at a painless price: Two people can eat well here for less than $10. In fact, Siddhartha's food -- particularly the fried appetizers and curries -- is even better than when we evaluated it several years ago, and business seems far more brisk.
The bargain of bargains these days is the $4.50 buffet. On a recent visit it consisted of a beautifully spiced curry of black-eyed peas, potatoes, green pepper and eggplant; a gentle combination of spinach and lentils that made a good foil for the curry; onion fritters in which the onion was sweet and still a little crisp; admirable spinach-lentil fritters, and an excellent pulao, a rice dish flavored with nuts, peas, turmeric and other spices.
The samosa appetizers are very good -- big, puffy, filled with spicy vegetables and wrapped in an excellent flaky crust, without excess oil. Another good appetizer is batada wada, bits of tart, delightfully flavored mashed potato fried in a thin coating of chickpea flour.
Bhel poori is a potato-onion appetizer that's spicy, tart and a little sweet, and has a texture reminiscent of Rice Krispies. These and other fried appetizers are all the more remarkable in view of the fact that they're made in advance and kept warm. Given the rapid turnover, however, there usually isn't time for them to get soggy or stale.
One item that just can't stand up to sitting long is poori, the fried Indian bread, so it's no surprise that Siddhartha's version is oily and heavy. But paratha, the baked whole wheat bread, is excellent, nicely chewy and just a little crisp at the bottom.
Perhaps the best dishes in the house are the dossas -- paper-thin, crepe-like pancakes made of a fermented rice and lentil batter that are rolled into thin tubes about a foot long. They come plain (sada dossa), filled with onion (uttapam) and, best of all, with a curried onion-potato filling (masala dossa). These fragile pancakes are marvels of delicacy, faintly crackly around the edges, a bit chewy near the center, and with a fascinating, slightly sourish flavor all their own.
To wash things down there are a couple of dynamite Indian drinks. The sweet, smooth masala milk, irresistible enough to convert even those who don't drink milk, is flavored with almond, pistachio and cardamom. Those who just can't be converted should aim for mango lassi, a wonderful mixture of yogurt and mango.
Experiment with the dozen or so desserts, made in-house. Try the sohan halwa if they have it, a crisp combination of milk, flour, oil and almonds. Or kulfi, the Indian ice cream, or coconut barfi, a white fudge with nuts.