Pros: Superlative food, service as it should be, a delightful meal all around
Cons: Yet to be discovered. Unassuming decor/storefront is probably a good thing
This place was packed relatively late on on a Wednesday night, and I am hardly surprised: the "All India Cafe" is excellent, probably the best Indian food I've had in Southern California. I almost lost heart at the get-go: the standard (or not, disappointingly, in too many SoCal places) pappadum that arrived when we sat down came with such fantastic chutney that it seemed inevitable that the rest of the meal would be a let-down.
It wasn't; it just got better and better. The "All India Cafe" is the sort of place that leaves you wishing they would sell their chutneys in large take-away containers so you could keep gorging yourself at home. (I could not stop eating here.) Bhel puri and vegetarian pakoras were selected off the impressive appetizer list -- "All India" does not limit itself to two varieties of samosas and one onion bhaji; a good meal could be made from appetizers alone -- and smothered in yet more chutney. This was almost gratuitous, since they didn't really need any help. I was also relieved by the spice 'heat' level (flavourful but not mouth-burning) and the appropriate use of cilantro (a big sticking point with me).
I order water with some trepidation, since it usually means constant interruptions to top off the glass each time you have a sip, or running dry at the exact moment you've abused the spicier condiments. "All India" has efficient but oddly non-intrusive staff: I didn't run dry, and barely noticed the smooth flow of food and beverages. Everything arrived in a timely fashion: neither rushed nor laboured. The service accounts for one of the five stars I'm giving "All India."
"All India"'s dosas are crisp and fresh (NB: a bad joke can be made with dosas of that size and width by asking if you are expected to smoke it). The rice is flawless. The condiments only got better. The dal is smooth and hearty. Vegetables are properly cooked. The masala sauce (I think -- you know, the orange kind) is creamy, smooth, and superb -- the ingredients became secondary; we just dipped our naan into the sauce and fought over the remaining traces.
I (somewhat stupidly, as far as this review goes) didn't look at the well-sized wine list too closely. I have to assume, given the tables around us, that it was a good one. Patrons of the "All India Cafe" are the sort you really want to see in an Indian restaurant: Indians, and wannabes shod in Birkenstocks. Groups ranged from blushing couples to sizable groups. The restaurant isn't large, but somehow accommodating nonetheless -- tables are re-arranged on a whim and the noise level is enough to carry on a private conversation...
...or not. The table adjacent to us had taken full advantage of the wine list ("We need another; the last one you brought us was empty"), and I mention them here only to inject some sort of humour into an otherwise boring and sycophantic review. We heard that tooth whitening can be expected to last for four years, that Benadryl -- based on current research -- can make you drowsy, and on and on. Attention restaurant-goers: the table next to you sniggering? Yes, they really are laughing at you. We couldn't help it. At some point the patriarch leaned over in my direction and asked in a low voice if he could have my bread. He was retrieved to a sitting position with a shrieked "Daddy!!" but the damage was done: he was a portly gentleman (I am being polite, yes) and you have not lived until a fat stranger has asked for the food off your plate. I mean, this table provided us with entertainment for the evening. Pasadena restaurant crowds are a dodgy proposition: there are students, there are shoppers coming in from the Old Town stores, there are local residents, and then there is a small contingent flown in from outer space, or perhaps Orange County.
But I digress. More sauce!!! I mean, I will be back to this place on a disturbingly regular basis. Also note that two exceptionally greedy adults managed to fill themselves up for approximately $32 (minus liquor and tip). The windows of the "All India" are littered with complementary reviews; having eaten there, they almost seem like unnecessary boasting.