Good Indian food, and a little extra

March 24, 1995|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

The Baltimore area has many excellent Indian restaurants, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Sona's India House is the only one where you can get burritos as well as chicken vindaloo.

Sona's is a cute little place, right across from Borders Books in Towson. It started as a salad and sandwich cafe with an Indian special or two. Customers liked the specials so much that owner Sona Lall turned it into an Indian restaurant a couple of months ago.

But just to hedge her bets, she kept what she calls her "lite Mexican and American" dishes: the burritos, a hamburger, several salads. And that's Sona's great charm. This is the Indian restaurant for families with kids who won't touch the stuff. You have the curry; let Junior have the burger and fries.

Much has been done with very little to turn what looks like a sub shop into an Indian restaurant. The result is classic charm on a shoestring. There's no disguising the counter, the fluorescent lights or the bare white walls, but two tiny dining areas have been decorated appealingly in red, white and black with lace curtains in the windows. Various Indian art adds ethnic atmosphere.

The surprise is just how complete this Indian menu is. Is there really a tandoor oven upstairs? How can a kitchen this size produce this many different Indian dishes on short notice? Not to mention the Buffalo wings, guacamole and sweet potato fries.

But somehow it does. This isn't the most elegant Indian food I've ever eaten; but it's good home-style cooking. True, the butter chicken tasted more like chicken in jazzed-up Campbell's cream of tomato soup, but the pieces of chicken were wonderfully tender and the sauce wasn't bad. Lamb sag (with spinach) was saltier than I like, but a vegetarian saute of green peppers, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms fragrant with allspice was seductively good.

Start with the chaat plate, just to remind yourself of how different American and Indian palates are. Who would think this up: cubed boiled potatoes, the Indian version of Wheat Thins and chick peas tossed together with yogurt and coriander chutney. Weird.

Or start with one of those good old standbys such as somosa pastries filled with potatoes and peas or pakoras, a sort of chopped vegetable fritter.

Have several different Indian breads, the highlight of the meal as far as I was concerned: the puffy fried puri and the soft, hot grilled nan, which the menu describes as pita bread (but it's actually softer and chewier).

You could finish up with a French pastry from the espresso bar across the street, but don't be such a wimp. Have a kulfi, which tastes like ice cream made from sweetened condensed milk flavored with rose essence and pistachios.

Sona's India House

Where: 414 York Road, Towson

Hours: Lunch, Tuesdays to Saturdays 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tuesdays to Thursdays 5 p.m.-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays to 11 p.m., Sundays noon to 9 p.m.

Credit cards accepted: MC, V

Features: Indian food

Non-smoking section? yes

Call: (410) 337-3837

Prices: Appetizers, $1.50-$4.50; entrees, $6.95-$13.95

** 1/2

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