Healthy Chicken Cafe

Rebranded: The former Ambala Dhaba

Rebranded: The former Ambala Dhaba

Hen checked: HCC's vegetarian naan-o-rito

Hen checked: HCC’s vegetarian naan-o-rito

Spotting the Healthy Chicken Cafe sign from across the street (1781 Westwood Blvd., north of Santa Monica Blvd.), we were intrigued by the unexpected qualifier “also vegan / vegetarian.” An item on Grub Street cleared up the mystery: Formerly known as Ambala Dhaba, HCC is a Northern Indian restaurant that has sought to rebrand itself to attract a wider clientele. As we learned on our visit tonight, the genial proprietor takes his vegetarian customers very seriously, eagerly pointing out the separate utensils and even the separate oven he uses for meat and non-meat. Though HCC has a standard array of Indian vegetarian dishes, from which customers make their selection at the counter, we decided to try the innovative naan-a-rito, a combination of those same ingredients wrapped burrito-style in the traditional Indian flatbread. Perhaps the most impressive element of HCC’s presentation, the golden, chewy naan is prepared right before your eyes, rolled out, spread on a convex mold, and almost instantly baked in the tandoori oven. The customer can then choose the filling: any combination of vegetables or legumes and basmati rice, supplemented by cooked carrots, chopped raw tomato, raw onion, raita, cilantro, tamarind and mint chutneys, and a salad of cabbage and radish. As with a Mexican burrito, there may be a law of diminishing returns as the number of ingredients increases; simple is generally better. In this case, we preferred our chickpea naan-a-rito to the one with peas and potatoes, perhaps because the former was prepared without the raita and thus better allowed the flavor of the main ingredient, the savory, mildly spicy chickpeas, to come through. The other noteworthy flavor in both naan-a-ritos was the sweet, tangy cooked carrots. (The freshly baked naan, of course, was another high point of the ensemble.) Our drinks, mango and mint lassis, were both as good as any we have had, the mint possibly better than average with its strong, fresh flavor and mild sweetness working in counterpoint to the sour bite of the yogurt. As befits its Westwood location, HCC is preeminently a place for students looking for inexpensive, nutritious, filling food (each giant naan-a-rito was easily enough for a meal in itself). Though a bit of trial and error may be needed before you find your own optimal naan-a-rito (or other dish), HCC provides more than enough reason for vegetarians, if not chickens, to make that trip across the road.

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