Hot chilies from the streets at Tava Indian Bistro

Tava Indian Bistro

Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars

Food: North Indian street food

Service: friendly, honest

Best dishes: chora chat, keema bun, bhajiya chips,

Vegetarian selections: paneer katakat, tava baingan

Price range: $

Credit cards: all major credit cards

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Sundays

Children: family-friendly

Parking: valet

Reservations: unnecessary

Wheelchair access: yes

Smoking: no

Noise level: low

Patio: no

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 1685 Church St., Decatur. 404-343-2710


The black-eyed pea is a humble pea. Whether being cooked in the American South or the Indian subcontinent, the peas are often stewed into a soft, lumpy beige-brown mass that sits on a plate with all the elegance of mud. I happen to love their earthy richness, though I don’t think of them as particularly exciting.

Yet, the chora chat served at Tava Indian Bistro, a Northern Indian joint in the Decatur strip mall known as Patel Plaza, is pure excitement.

Each black-eyed pea, cooked to a crisp exterior and creamy interior, was enveloped in the overwhelming flavors of tamarind and cilantro. Every addictive bite possessed a sweet-salty-crunchy-soft balance that I expect from lab-engineered junk foods. (I mean that in the most complimentary way.) I shoveled them with a serving spoon directly into my mouth. I may have scared the waiter when he checked in and I nearly yelled, “These are great!”

In my subsequent meals, I’ve yet to find another dish at Tava that possesses such explosive, focused flavor, though that bar is rather high. The focus here is Northern Indian street food cooked on the tava, a large frying pan that is roughly like a flattened wok. The dining room even has a window into the kitchen so that diners may peer in and watch the cook stir quick fry-ups on a pair of tavas.

There’s plenty to explore on the menu, which ranges from familiar kababs and tikka masalas to less common options like lamb brains and kidneys.

In general, the dishes at Tava come fierce with heat and a little indistinct in flavor. The lamb pasanda — leg of lamb sliced up and cooked in a deep red masala — was bracingly hot with chilies and a little greasy, so much so that I wasn’t able to distinguish much, particularity in the other spices. On my next visit, I asked for the tava chicken to be cooked to medium heat, but the result was much the same, all chilies and grease.

I’m by no means a wimp when it comes to the heat, but I do like a cool beverage to help balance it out. I was surprised to find that, in addition to not serving alcohol, Tava does not allow customers to bring their own, either, even if they happen to be sitting there with a six pack at 9 p.m. on a Thursday and hoping to cut the heat with a little cool beer.

Our waitress just shrugged her shoulders, said her manager said no, and suggested trying a lassi, the flavored yogurt drink. The lassi selection here tends toward sweet options (mango, strawberry) aside from a sea salt and cumin variation.

“Oh, the sea salt one sounds interesting,” I said to the waitress.

“Yes, but it is not good,” she replied.

I was incredulous. I suppose I’m used to servers lying to me, because I insisted she bring me a taste. She was right. The drink tasted like seawater mixed with yogurt.

I settled on the pistachio and saffron lassi, which was fine, though no substitute for cold beer. I’d like to suggest Tava award that waitress some kind of badge of honesty and, perhaps, listen to her when revising the drink menu.

The menu also boasts a selection of tava sandwiches, a style better known in India as pav bhaji. These are soft, hamburger-style buns stuffed with curry or meats. Try the keema bun, described on the menu as “straight from the streets of Bombay,” a ground lamb sandwich packed with cumin and just enough green chili. It is a little like a sloppy joe — a messy treat — and served with a handful of crunchy housemade potato chips.

More importantly, don’t miss those black-eyed peas.