Best Thing I Ate This Week: Pani Puri from Desi Bites
Despite the commonly held belief that you can’t be a jack of many trades, I have a hunch that grocery stores that double as restaurants are actually home to some of the best food out there. Case in point: two of the best taquerias in Portland, Tienda Santa Cruz and Panaderia 5 de Mayo, offer tacos and tamales from counters hidden behind grocery aisles. So when Sweedeedee chef Sam Smith posted about Desi Bites (16165 SW Regatta Ln #300, Beaverton) on his restaurant-rec Instagram page that I wrote about this week, @slamb_eating, I was intrigued—especially when I learned the restaurant was also home to a small market. Desi Bites is in Beaverton—another good sign, since I’ve had some stellar meals out in the west suburbs—and it shares space in a strip mall next to the beloved Japanese bakery Oyatsupan, and an Indian pizza shop called Bombay Pizza & Curry that I can’t wait to try next. Could this suburban row of shops become a culinary destination?
There are a few of these Indian market-restaurant hybrids in the area (India Sweets & Spices, Apna Bazaar), but Desi Bites is a newcomer that’s been open only three months, so fresh it still has its grand-opening banner out front. In the market, you’ll find anything from instant noodles to jaggery to dozens of types of rice. At the counter-service restaurant side of the shop, the menu is massive, with a whole section devoted to kathi rolls, a full menu of Indo-Chinese dishes, tons of biryani choices, and a whole page of curries.
Overwhelmed with choices, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d need several visits to get a sense of the menu, but started with pani puri. I’d eaten pani puri at a couple places before, but it always came preassembled, which meant that if you didn’t devour it immediately, the crunchy puris would quickly get soggy and even fall apart. That's not the case here. I carefully cracked the thin, crispy puris with my plastic spoon, then stuffed some filling inside—a blend of creamy-textured potatoes, red onions, cilantro, and crispy sev. Then I drizzled some of the accompanying tangy, spicy, and sweet water, complete with little crunchy spheres that reminded me of Rice Krispies. The result: a snack that was simultaneously crackly, velvety, starchy, fruity, hearty, light, and refreshing.
I was rolling solo on this visit, but I think the best way to try Desi Bites is with a small army of friends so you can order something from every section of the menu—though I might still need a whole order of pani puri for myself.