Cheap Eats

Traditional, not trendy

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Kathleen Burge
Globe Correspondent / October 7, 2009

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Long before the methadone clinic in Kenmore Square gave way to Hotel Commonwealth, before IHOP closed and Eastern Standard opened, long before the baseball team across the way redeemed itself, India Quality was here. Twenty-six years after this subterranean shoebox in the shadow of the Citgo sign began serving food from the northern, Punjab region of India, the restaurant still stands.

India Quality is not the kind of Indian restaurant that throws around the word “fusion,’’ or serves Indian tapas or would ever be considered trendy. The menu is extensive, but the food is traditional. Students, especially, come for the big portions and small prices; the lighting is soft enough and the rectangular dining room cozy enough that it qualifies as a cheap date night. India Quality, whose white tablecloths are stitched with the word “welcome,’’ is homey, but not corny.

One of the best choices is an appetizer we order on a whim: Dahi papri ($4.25), layered with crispy strips similar to chapati, yogurt, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and a dusting of cumin, could be habit-forming. We also like aloo pratha ($5.95), fried bread stuffed with potatoes, peas, and cilantro leaves. Lentil soup ($2.50) is watery and bland. It’s hard to go wrong with a mango lassi ($2.75) and this one is rich, not packed with too much ice.

Malai kofta ($11.95, dinner) is beautiful to behold, a brilliant red bowl and oblong dumplings. The tomato-based sauce, laced with 22 spices, is a nice change from the more common cream sauce; but the dumplings, which include cauliflower, homemade cheese, carrots, and ginger, are blander than their counterparts at other Indian restaurants. Healthier, perhaps, but blander. Aloo palak ($11.95) is some of the best we’ve had, more flavorful than potatoes and spinach have any right to be. Shrimp biryani ($15.95), the most expensive dish on the menu, is nothing special, although the large, plentiful shrimp are delicious.

Spicing here is not shy: Mild is more akin to medium at other Indian restaurants. Garlic chicken ($12.95) is not for the faint of heart - you will ooze garlic for many hours - but it is worth the lingering perfume. Three years ago, owner Parmjit Singh also opened Punjab Palace in Allston and the menu is nearly identical.

At the end of our meal, our waiter makes the preschooler at our table glow when, unbidden, he sets down a small dish of vanilla ice cream.

INDIA QUALITY 484 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-267-4499, All major credit cards accepted. Not wheelchair accessible.

Prices $2.25-$15.95

Hours Lunch: Sun-Sat 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Dinner: Mon-Fri 5-11 p.m., Sat-Sun 3-11 p.m.

Liquor Beer and wine.

May we suggest Dahi papri, aloo pratha, garlic chicken, aloo palak.

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