I tend to be skeptical of retail/restaurant combinations. IKEA serves frankfurters and Swedish meatballs, but you'd hardly drive there just to dine. The disgusting smell of cheap Parmesan cheese wafting up from Au Bon Pain in Copley Place makes me shun the nearby mall shops. Persephone at The Achilles Project was terrific, but it failed. What are the prospects for the Dosa Factory, an Indian counter-service place at the back of Shalimar Gourmet Foods in Central Square? Pretty good, actually, in part because pan-regional Indian street foods and other dishes aren't so much at odds with a store already perfumed with sub-continental groceries and spices. Further, a lot of the food is quite good, if showing some Westernized muting of traditional flavors, as at parent One World Cuisine's other restaurants (which include Kashmir, Mantra, and Diva).
The namesake dosa is a crisp 18-inch crêpe made from lentil and rice flours, cylindrically rolled around various richly seasoned fillings. Traditional dosas ($6.95–$7.95) here are pretty fine, notably mysore masala, a curry of potatoes and pan-fried onions, and bhindi masala ($7.95), fried sliced okra and onions. The accompanying coconut chutney adds an indispensable, fresh sweetness, while the included bowl of sambhar, a thin lentil stew, could use more chili fire. Original creations include the Mexican ($8.95, with roast lamb, corn, and jalapeños) and the Peking ($9.95, with roast duck, bell peppers, and, ahem, kimchi). Indian Chinese dishes, evoking the flavors of Chinese restaurants in India, represent a more successful fusion: gobhi Manchurian ($7.50) coats cauliflower with a sweetish, chili-hot, cornstarch-glossy tomato sauce alongside a pile of basmati.
But the most fun way to eat here is to snack on an array of chaat and other snacks, like pav cholee ($5.95), a delightful chickpea curry served with small toasted hamburger buns; mirchi pakora ($4.50), a pair of batter-fried hot green peppers, greasy and delicious; paneer pakora ($3.95), chunks of deep-fried farmer cheese; and daami poori ($5.95), puffy/crisp flying saucers of semolina flour stuffed with stewed chickpeas and potatoes, served with mint chutney. Drink options include a variety of lassi ($2.75–$2.95), including a delicious, savory masala ginger version; fresh-squeezed juices ($2.95), such as carrot/ginger; and milkshakes ($3.95), such as saffron/pistachio. There's also a broad range of traditional Northern Indian entrées like kormas, saags, and curries ($6.95–$7.95); tandoor-roasted meats ($8.75–$13); and breads ($2–$3.95). The humble trappings (cafeteria trays, plastic servingware, bare-bones booths) are no draw, but Dosa Factory demonstrates that stuffing a restaurant into a store can be a good idea.
Dosa Factory, located at 571 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, is open Monday–Saturday, 10 am–10 pm, and Sunday, 11 am–10 pm. Call 617.868.3672.