The Cambridge/Somerville area has, to the best of our knowledge, only two restaurants that call themselves Dhabas: Punjabi Dhaba (PD) and Desi Dhaba (DD). Having knocked PD off of our list a few weeks back, we now turn our attention to DD, the lesser known road-side restaurant cousin in Lafayette square near the the intersection of Main St. and Mass Ave. Despite the bustle of foot traffic in this part of lower Cambridge, DD was almost entirely unoccupied during our visit. Indeed, apart from Athma and Yogi, the large interior was devoid of Indian patrons. Although the dhaba moniker is typically applied to low grade road-side establishments, DD had a reasonably clean interior with exclusively religious wall coverings, which, surprisingly, lacked the usual underboob. The menu consisted of the usual indian fare, and even featured “Kheer: rice pudding with RESINS,” of which we steered clear. Shockingly, the menu lacked any mention of a mango lassi. However, the menu explicitly indicated that one can order items that are not the menu. Using this as an opening, Athma tried to order the unusual dish ennai katrikai (an eggplant stew) to which the waiter responded, “we have eggplant.” Chat was equally unsuccessful in trying to order a mango lassi.
Our meal began with the bread basket ($9) which consisted of garlic, aloo, and peshawari naan. We were pleasantly surprised by the spiciness of the aloo naan and appreciated the lack of pie filling in the peshawari naan. The goat rogan josh ($14) consisted of well cooked goat, but did have a few bits of bone. This dish left us wondering if these same characteristics would arise from a combination of Seth [Rogan & Josh] Groban. The aloo ghobi ($12), while entirely lacking spice, was tasty nonetheless and had good cookitude. The meal was rounded out by the slightly-too-sweet sweet lassi ($2.5), which, while not a mango lassi, sported a pleasant rose flavor.
Overall, despite a few missteps, our dining experience at DD was decent. Whereas the numerous key failings of PD left us with no choice but to issue it a two-samosa (▲▲) rating—much to the shock of the local community—our view of DD is slightly more rosy (like the lassi), reflected in its solid three samosa (▲▲▲) rating with a two rupee (₨ ₨) price. In our earlier review we noted that PD recreates the questionable experience of an authentic Indian road-side Dhaba. DD, on the other hand, is a Dhaba only in name; ironically, in failing to live up to its Dhaba title, it eclipses PD, taking the high road in search of culinary non-mediocrity.