Amuse-Bouche: Not Just Snacks
It’s hard to think of a less informative name for a restaurant than “Not Just Snacks” (a few ideas: “Cuisine”; “Sustenance”; “Eat Here So We Don’t Go Bankrupt”), but that’s exactly what one restaurant up Hope Street calls itself. A few more pertinent details: it’s Indian, BYOB and open everyday for dine-in or take-out. And, no, it’s not just snacks, although there’s a big display case of ready-made samosas and such right when you walk in the front door; the restaurant also offers a full lunch and dinner menu. An annex market across the street, Not Just Spices, sells specialty Indian groceries.
Clearly these guys want us to know that they’re more than meets the eye… but how much more, exactly? Perhaps more pressingly, what makes this place stand out from Kabob & Curry and Taste of India, both of which provide much more convenient ways to satisfy our masala cravings? For starters, it’s cozier, with a distinctly no-frills, mom-and-pop feel. The brightly lit dining room is more classroom-y than it is ambient, with hilariously kitschy murals of India on the walls to set the mood.
Another thing that sets ‘Not Just Snacks’ apart is, ironically, its snacks. If you ever find yourself paralyzed with indecision and existential doubt when choosing between meat and vegetable for your samosa filling, this could be the place for you. A plethora of greasy treats — including samosas, khasta kachori, pakoras and pani puri — are sold individually so you can pick and choose to your heart’s content. The most expensive of them all (chicken-stuffed alu tikki) runs at a cool $2.35. You can easily make a dinner out of this for around $6, which is exactly what one of my very satisfied friends did. The downside is that it’s cheap for a reason — everything is simply reheated from the cases up front, and microwaved samosas just don’t have the same charm as their freshly fried counterparts. The snacks we tried were for the most part dry but substantial (samosas the size of small kittens). In any case, especially for the indecisive and takeout-loving demographics, the à la carte approach is much appreciated.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Remember, it’s not just snacks: there are two full pages of curries, biryani, kababs and South Indian specialties, most of which come with rice or naan. Note: You’d be a fool not to get the naan, which is pillowy and chewy and generally the stuff of angels. Beyond the staples, there are some interesting dishes, including dosas (the Indian answer to the burrito) and a great range of vegetarian options. Navarattan korma wasn’t what we expected — it was eerily similar to corn chowder, plus mixed veggies and cashews — but was incredible comfort food. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the chicken vindaloo. When I ordered it, the waitress’ eyes popped as she warned me, “It’s very spicy.” Challenge accepted. She wasn’t wrong: it was a hot, tangy curry with off-the-charts spicy peppers thrown in for good measure. It’s good to know that the chefs don’t make compromises, and the rest of the entrées seem similarly authentic. Prices are pretty fair — $9-10 for most, which is several bucks cheaper than Kabob & Curry — though the portions are small enough that the snacks remain a way better deal.
Getting there: Take the RIPTA #42 outbound and get off on the corner of Sixth Street.
High: Indian food that’s more legit than what Thayer Street provides; a cheery, welcoming, easygoing family-style atmosphere; snacks.
Low: It’s hard to find the motivation to trek up there when we’ve got two Indian options on or near College Hill; the food, while very tasty, is not enough of a siren call to make this your new go-to spot for saag paneer.
Bottom line: They do not lie: there is much more than snacks to be had at Not Just Snacks. But as long as you’re hopping RIPTA, take advantage of what is most unique to this cozy spot, whose food is best enjoyed as a smorgasbord of pretty good snacks eaten straight from the takeout box.