Chili Paneer Dosa at Saravanaas / Saravana Bhavan ($10.50)
Paneer is a less common dosa filling (paneer’s more used in Northern India, and dosas hail from the South), but the combination here just tastes right. What make's Saravana Bhavan's paneer dosa special is the texture: the paneer is cut quite small, as if through a ricer, so it's light and fluffy, not rubbery. It's then tossed with an ample amount of buttery, sweet, hot-but-not-overly-so chili sauce that sneaks into every cheesy crevice. The dosa itself is crisp and light with just a bit of chew. This restaurant is a great case of an international chain deserving all the success it's received.
Rava Masala Dosa at Saravanaas / Saravana Bhavan ($10)
This rava dosa, made with wheat instead of lentils, is exceptionally crisp, and you'll fight over the delicate lacy edges (i,e. the entire thing). The flavor is more nutty and less fermented-tangy than the standard dosa, and it takes quite well to the great sauces Saravana Bhavan offers. In addition to the standard sambar and coconut chutney, there's also a spicy green paste (mint I'm pretty sure) and a more curry-like red dipping sauce. Don't forget the potatoes in this dosa either, which are very creamy and flavored a cut above most others I've had in New York.
Special Hyderabad Dosa at Ganesh Temple Canteen ($6)
The Hindu Temple Society of North America’s Ganesh Temple keeps getting love for its canteen, which serves up a whole array of South Indian vegetarian dishes. Every ounce of that praise is deserved, and so much more—these people make my favorite dosas in New York. All of them are great, but if you can take some heat, try the Special Hyderabad Dosa. The interior is painted with a punchy mix of cilantro and green chili, and tastes a little like a punch in the face from a very fresh vegetable. The potatoes, coconut chutney, and sambar on the side are all exceptionally balanced flavor bombs.
Paper Dosa at Ganesh Temple Canteen ($5)
If all you’re after is a really excellent dosa, go for the hilariously oversized (two whole plates!) paper dosa, which comes extra thin and has no potato filling. The crust is perfectly lacquered and crisp, with just the right balance of sour and nutty flavors—more than anything else it shows off the incredible skill of the kitchen. Yes, it’s huge, but it’s much lighter than other dosas (and hey, in India they get even bigger). Just don’t stand around like a jerk trying to take a photo of it—it cools off fast.
Pondicherry Dosa at NY Dosas ($6)
Thiru Kumar's NY Dosas is a West Village institution, beloved by everyone from NYU students to Calvin Trillin. And they really are quite good. The Special Pondicherry is the most popular, and with good reason: it's a balanced, well made dosa with bold flavors that's not too heavy. All of Kumar's dosas are a little thicker than average and have a slightly chewy, sourdough bite. The interior is smeared with chili paste, then filled with his standard potato filling and a mix of romaine lettuce, carrot, bell pepper, and onion. Salad in a dosa? Yup, and it works—a balanced, almost refreshing bite. The outer crust has a gorgeous lacquer on it, but is nearly grease-free. The sambar and coconut chutney pulse with red chili; they're bright and slightly sweet, great foils for the mild potatoes and crunchy veggies.
West 4th Street b/n Sullivan and Thompson Streets (map); 917-710-2092
Gunpowder Masala Dosa at Chennai Garden ($9.95)
I'm not too keen on the sambar and chutney at Chennai Garden, which are pretty wan in flavor, but there's nothing mild about the Gunpowder Masala Dosa. The standard thin-but-not-paper-thin crepe is painted with a paste made from red chili powder, oil, and roasted ground split peas. The "gunpowder" paste is one of those weird-but-brilliant condiments—it pairs the brightness of slightly tangy hot chili with the deep roasted flavors of dried split peas. You'll need to make use of the well-mashed, thoroughly seasoned potatoes to tone down the intensity of this one. The texture of the gunpowder paste is just as important as the flavor; it has a rough graininess that plays nicely against the dosa’s sleek crust.
129 East 27th Street New York, NY 10016 (map); 212-689-1999
Raj Dosa at Rajbhog Sweets ($5)
The crepe in the Raj Dosa isn't that remarkable here—decent flavor and light on the fat, but it's way too floppy. The potato filling, though, is gangbusters. It's way more flavorful and interestingly textured than most: we're talking creamy potatoes and little nubs of moong dal, scallion, and plump mustard seeds. It's a textural joy to eat, and if you think of the dosa as a softer flatbread, it's satisfying in every way. The coconut chutney here also has the most fresh flavor of any I sampled.