India's Sweets and Spices doesn't look like much--in fact, it looks like a place you'd want to avoid. If you just get out of your car and step inside though, the lines, the clientele, and the pungent, savory aroma of Indian curries will convince you that you're in exactly the right place.
Though there is a large menu on the wall behind the counter, it seems to make more sense to order what's visible in the steam trays. At lunchtime, order the lunch special and you can choose three curries from about six options, and for the ridiculously low price of $5.50, rice, naan, raita, and gulab jamun are included. One caveat: while I was more than full after eating all of this, if you have a rather large appetite, you may find yourself wishing you were at a $6.95 all-you-can-eat buffet (on weekends though, some restaurants that charge $6.95 or $7.95 for their buffets during the week increase the price to $9.95). On the other hand, if you have trouble controlling yourself at a buffet, here's your chance to have the variety of a buffet without overdoing it.
India's Sweets and Spices is not just a restaurant--it's also a small grocery store and sweet shop--one where the owners have crammed as much stuff into as little space as possible. As such, the experience of eating your food on-site is about as minimalist as it gets. The entrees come on a styrofoam tray that struggles to support the food. You serve yourself free water in tiny styrofoam cups. The silverware, of course, is plastic, and you bus your own brightly colored Formica-on-particle-board table booth (think Subway). Choose between not quite indoor dining under the plastic tent, or tables on the sidewalk. Either way, parking meters and the hectic whooshing and honking sounds of six lanes of Venice Boulevard traffic don't do much to create ambiance.
The food makes up for it, though. I am constantly let down by Indian food that isn't spicy enough, is served at room temperature, or has some other fatal flaw. The yogurt curry, aloo gobi, and mattar paneer I scarfed at India's Sweets and Spices fulfilled a major craving for deliciously real Indian food. I'd never had yogurt curry before, and I have decided that I much prefer its tang over the sometimes sickening sweetness of coconut milk curries. I didn't like the paneer in my mattar paneer, but that's always true for me. I like cheese and I like tofu, but a cheese that combines texture and flavor elements of each does not please me. (I should point out, for those who don't know, that there is no bean curd in paneer, and that it isn't meant to be reminiscent of cheese+tofu, that's just what it reminds me of.)
The aloo gobi really made me happy because both the potatoes and the cauliflower had been cooked until they were tender and had fallen apart into small, easy to eat pieces. So many restaurants serve up impossibly huge chunks of undercooked chunks of vegetables, which are not only unappetizing and difficult to eat, but also prevent the dish from reaching its potential. As I learned in 10th grade biology, when you break something down into smaller parts, you increase its surface area. More surface area=more places for spices to go, and that means tastier food.
I love Indian sweets. I don't know much about them, except that many of them involve sweetened condensed milk, and I've never seen a place label them, so I just asked the man behind the counter to give me a pound's worth. Both here and at Shan Halal in Artesia, someone has been more than happy to help me out. There were many more things that I could try in one visit--it would probably take about 3 pounds to try one of each thing. Many Indian sweets are very dense and weigh a lot, and a pound will run you $9 here, but I think it's worth it.
The squiggly orange thing tasted like cotton candy tastes if you mush it all up into a compact ball, but seemed to be something deep fried filled with a sugary liquid (though I don't think that's scientifically possible). My favorite, which you can't see in the photo, is a simple, soft white rectangle about three quarters of an inch thick sprinkled lightly with pistachios. Just point to whatever looks good to you, and try a little of everything. You can't try these sweets at most Indian restaurants--dessert menus usually consist of kheer, gulab jamun, maybe some carrot halwa (which you might find in a sweet shop), and maybe some kulfi. So take advantage and order a bunch of sweets here.
I didn't peruse the grocery selection at all because if I'm being honest with myself, I will never actually cook anything that I might buy. I like the idea of cooking, the idea of owning every spice known to woman, but after 10 hours away from home and at work, dumping a bag of something from Trader Joe's into a skillet is about all the cooking I feel like doing.
India's Sweets and Spices is a small chain with locations throughout the state. I haven't been to the other locations, but even if you don't live near Culver City, you might still have access to their great, cheap Indian food. Check out their website (link below) for details.
India's Sweets and Spices
9409 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles (Culver City), CA 90034