I first found Amma’s South Indian Cuisine in Center City late this summer. After a disastrous trip to Popeyes (long story), I ended up walking into the casual sit-down restaurant. The restaurant was filled with families enjoying an early dinner. Each table was decorated with a different dish, ranging from biryani to Madras coffee.
Though modest in size, the large glass windows opened up the dining area. Plus, the brick wall and light fixtures helped solidify the restaurant’s warm atmosphere, which complemented the late evening weather. It didn’t take long for the alluring smell of spiced curry to encourage me to try the ambitious menu. Thankfully, it did not disappoint.
Amma’s South Indian Cuisine is an Indian restaurant owned by Sathish Varadhan and business partner Bala Krishnan. Inspired by their mothers’ cooking, the duo has opened a second location in Philly after successfully launching the first Amma’s in Marlton, New Jersey. Both locations have been met with praise.
One of the first things you’ll notice walking into Amma’s is the framed newspaper articles celebrating the restaurant’s dishes, like its dosas (a rice crepe made from fermented batter and beans) and “Chicken 65” (a popular deep-fried chicken dish from Hotel Buhari in South India). In fact, Philadelphia Inquirer’s Craig LaBan has recently named the South Indian restaurant one of the top 25 restaurants in the city.
Despite the acclaim, the prices are more than reasonable. You could easily buy a filling meal for less than $15. There’s even a $13 lunch special that includes more than five separate dishes including curry, rasam (soup) and sambar (vegetable stew).
That’s the thing about Amma’s: the restaurant gives patrons who might be unfamiliar with South Indian cuisine an opportunity to experience the food first-hand. Its wide-ranging menu offers a variety of soups, dosas, curries, biryani, chettinad and korma that can easily introduce unfamiliar diners to the flavors of South India.
The menu even offers brief meal descriptors, so customers won’t be overwhelmed by the 50 plus items offered daily. But no matter what you order, I can guarantee that your meal will be enhanced by spices, which Amma’s grinds in-house. Though I always hesitate to use the word “authentic,” the restaurant’s commitment to the home cooking of the owners’ respective mothers, Devi Varadhan and Govindammal Duraisam, is admirable.
Personally, Amma’s introduced me to goat gongura, a meat stew cooked with sorrel leaves and peppers. Served with a bowl of white rice, the gongura was able to indulge my taste buds with a deep umami flavor that was only complemented (but never overwhelmed) by the bold spices highlighted in its broth.
The dosa was another highlight. As someone who is (at best) indifferent to French crepes, Amma’s crisp crepe was a pleasant surprise for me. Plated on top of a large leaf and polished metal tray, the crepe was a visually stunning dish despite its simplicity.
Lastly, I want to commend the service. Servers do an excellent job guiding the customers through the menu. Every time someone was confused about a dish or needed extra assistance, a server was always there to help. They definitely solidified Amma’s Cuisine as one of my new favorite restaurants.
So, if you’re a college student who wants to try South Indian food, Amma’s South Indian Cuisine may be the place you’re looking for. It’s accessible in every aspect without compromising the food’s integrity. It’s a rarity that should not be overlooked, and I’’ll definitely return there soon.