Last year, I wrote a column on Pioneer Boulevard, India’s gift to Los Angeles. Pioneer Boulevard features 15 easily top-notch Indian restaurants, and that’s before we get into the logistics of what actually qualifies as a restaurant. The street’s best quality is that it offers food you just don’t see in America. Unless you grew up in a Gujarati household, I’m willing to bet some dough that you can’t navigate your way around a menu with items like idli sambar, khasta kachori, and dahi batata puri.
The only issue with Pioneer Boulevard is that it’s 35 minutes away from Claremont. But we can’t ask for everything, right? In this case, we can. You won’t be able to tell by any sign, but nestled in a little Foothill strip mall 10 minutes from campus is a tiny restaurant called Ashirwad The Blessings. Although it serves some South Indian cuisine, most of its menu revolves around Gujarati breads and snacks called chaat. Ashirwad is not quite at Little India’s level, but it is good enough that it beats the half-hour trip (unless you’re religious about your Indian food). And even so, Ashirwad is still the best food you can get around here for under ten bucks.
So, assuming you lost the aforementioned bet, how do you navigate your way around this menu? First, some fundamentals: The breads on this menu are called roti, paratha, puri, uttapam, and dosas. Roti is the general name for a bread found in Southeast Asia—there are multiple varieties depending on what country you’re in. There’s even roti in some parts of the Caribbean. But the Indian roti you’ll find here is simple; it’s made from wheat flour and pan-fried until it puffs up like a balloon. Paratha is essentially a type of roti, except it’s made in several layers of dough.
Generally, puri is fried, but its texture can vary from something resembling the elephant ears found at Disneyland to something like puffed crackers. Basically, uttapam is an American pancake made from rice flour; however, this restaurant likes to throw in some chili peppers, onions, and chutneys as toppings, which definitely sounds like something worth ordering.
Dosa may be the coolest of the breads. It usually looks like a French crêpe, but there are many variations. Rava masala dosa ($5.99) looks like a perfectly formed bird’s nest and can be served plain ($3.99 with a side of chutneys) or filled with potato, onions, and spices (called masala, $4.99).
I was so excited to find this place that I actually went there on two consecutive nights: the first night to review it and the second night to show it off to all my vegetarian friends. Why? Because Gujarati food is entirely vegetarian (even if it’s not exactly healthy).
If I were limited to one item here, I would go for something with chole, a tomato-based chickpea stew laced with spices. You can get samosas dumped in chole ($3.49), or you can get chole with a side of roti or paratha ($4.99). Thankfully, I’m not limited to one thing, so other good options include the ragada patties ($3.99), any variety of puri (pani, sev, bahi batata, or bhel—around $4), and khasta kachori ($4.99). There’s also an assortment of foods you can order with breads–take palak paneer, for example, which may sound familiar. There’s also thali ($9.99), an excellent arrangement of breads and vegetables designed to be a meal. Honestly, go with whatever your stomach tells you. Over the course of two nights, I ordered most of the menu, and nothing disappointed.
My conclusion for all of this is that Ashirwad has launched itself to the top of my local-restaurants-to-take-parents-to-on-Family-Weekend list. The restaurant only has four or five small tables though, so consider calling ahead.
Ashirwad The Blessings. 583 E Foothill Blvd. Upland, CA 91786. (909) 608-1313.