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Chicago’s First Dosa Restaurant is Opening Downtown

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The Art of Dosa is a longtime food festival vendor

The Art of Dosa is opening in this downtown space.
Courtesy of Ravi Nagubadi
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Ravi Nagubadi plans to open The Art of Dosa, a 50-seat fast-casual spot, downtown early next year at 39 N. Wells St. His hope is to help dosa infiltrate mainstream American dining to the extent that Japanese sushi has. When someone is going out for sushi, they rarely say “I’m going out for Japanese,” Nagubadi explained.

Dosa is the thin-crepe-like dish that originated in South India. The fermented batter is cooked to a crisp on an Indian tava (or griddle) and then stuffed with a variety of ingredients, including spiced potatoes, and folded over. The dish is served with a variety of accoutrements, including chutney, to round-out the meal. Nagubadi’s dosas measure at about 18 inches by 12 inches of golden goodness. Some may make larger versions. The Art of Dosa may be the first dosa specialists with a brick and mortar in Chicago.

While Chicago is home to plenty of restaurants that serve quality dosas — Udupi Palace and Mysore Woodlands, to name a few on Devon — those restaurants offer a broad menu of South Indian delights. A restaurant that specializes in the item, like the one Nagubadi plans to open, is a different experience where patrons are quickly served fresh dosas. This would make The Art of Dosa Chicago’s first dosa restaurant.

Nagubadi is a Buffalo, New York native but moved when he was a child. His parents are from Andhra, a southern state in India. He grew up around Chicago in Munster, Indiana and now lives in Wheaton.

He didn’t need to make an R&R trip abroad to learn the recipes and techniques. He talked with his mother, Aruna Nagubadi, who helped hone his skills. She’s helping him with the menu and the technique: So he can achieve crispy consistency with each dosa. “This first time I got the fermented batter to rise was a moment to remember,” Nagubadi said.

Aruna Nagubadi making dosas.
Courtesy of Ravi Nagubadi

Chicagoans don’t always want to travel to Devon for quality Indian food, Nagubadi said, and The Art of Dosa will serve customers made-to-order dosas that take about three minutes to cook. The operation started in 2011 when Nagubadi began as a vendor at Veggie Fest, an annual event that brings together vegetarian food vendors in the Chicago area. They just held their 11th annual event in suburban Lisle. Nagubadi said the lines were 30-people deep for the event’s nine hours. Dosa has always been a favorite of the meat-free crowd, but the dish has crossover appeal. Over in India, a dosa chain — Mavalli Tiffin Rooms — holds a record for serving 21,000 customers in seven hours.

“That’s how popular dosas are,” Nagubadi said. “It shocks me how many people don’t know about them.”

Nagubadi has experimented with spice levels and curries, and customers will be able to customize their dosas. He mixes all the powders himself, and said he has a gunpowder spice that will impress folks who like heat. Besides dosa, he’ll serve a faux meat lamb biryani, vada (fried spiced fritters), poori, and even dosa wraps. They’ll also serve a variety of ice creams, including spicy flavors. The space will be pure vegetarian.

“Dosa is a such a traditional vegetarian dish, if we went non vegetarian, we would alienate half our fanbase,” Nagubadi said.

Posted by Art of Dosa on Friday, August 11, 2017

By day, Nagubadi is a software engineer and uses his coworkers as guinea pigs. He’s even made an experimental frozen dosa that uses a pop-up toaster to heat up. It’s a portable version so his coworkers could try his food.

There are other fast-casual Indian restaurants downtown, like Naansense and Bombay Wraps, and many diners will naturally draw comparisons. But Nagubadi doesn’t see them as competition. The others serve meat, and for Nagubadi, dosa transcends all genres. Eventually, Nagubadi wants to scale the operation nationwide.

“I see the falafels of the world, now the poke and ramens of the world — burritos,” he said. “Come on man, none of them is as good as a great dosa.”

Check out The Art of Dosa on Sept. 23 as one of the vendors at Chicago VeganMania. And stay tuned for more updates on when the restaurant will open.