There are office-park restaurant gems, and then there’s Namaste, which sits hidden in Pacific Park Plaza in Aliso Viejo. No, seriously, it’s hidden: I finally parked and walked around to try to find the Indian restaurant, then realized it was right in front of me all along, with a shiny-window exterior and a sign that made it resemble a Kumon. And even when you go inside, you might be tricked by the artwork for sale on the wall, the Indian clothing on racks and packaged food into thinking it’s a yoga studio.
But it’s actually the best Indian restaurant in South County, the only one in OC to specialize in the cuisine of Gujarat, a coastal state in western India from which comes the family of The Log editor (and Weekly friend) Parimal Rohit. It’s a state where vegetarianism prevails, so don’t come to Namaste expecting tandoor anything. But the servings are so generous here you’ll be fuller than if you ate a tureen of goat vindaloo all by yourself.
Lunchtime is all about the thali, the original combo plate. For $8, you get the entrée of the day (be happy if it’s the tawa pulao, which is like tomato-based biryani), your choice of three vegetable dishes, a side (go with the cooling raita) and a fluffy slice of naan. Vegetarian options vary by day, but usually bounce between lentils, mung or garbanzo beans, potatoes, and tofu. It doesn’t matter: They’re all so savory you won’t even need any chutney. Eschew the samosas and have the dhokla, which resembles subcontinental cornbread but is far better: made from a fermented batter of rice flour, it’s fluffy and slightly sour—perfect.
Gorge on lunch, then return for the dinner, when the offerings are akin to a Mumbai street food affair. Vada pav is basically a fried-potato slider—carb away! Ragda patties are even better, potato patties slathered in a tomato curry. And so much more—so check it out! End with saffron yogurt—after this, you’ll never eat Chobani again. Just don’t get lost like I did!
Namaste, 27131 Aliso Creek Rd., Ste. 150, Aliso Viejo, (949) 446-8500; www.namastebites.com.