Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: āp kā khānā svādiṣṭa ho!
Restaurant: Hema’s Kitchen
Address: 2439 W Devon Ave, Chicago
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. every day
Getting there: A 20-minute bus ride on the 93 (California/Dodge) to California/Devon, followed by a 5-minute walk.
Hema’s Kitchen was founded, according to its website, by a couple from the Indian city of Hyderabad with the intention of serving traditional dishes from a domestic Indian kitchen. In its current form it is owned and run by the titular Hema and is one of the most lauded Indian restaurants in Chicago: WTTW Channel 11’s Check, Please! named it the best Indian food joint in the city and it was runner-up in Chicago Reader’s Best Food and Drink of 2011 poll. With these high expectations, we set out to Hema’s Kitchen, situated in a South Asian-Middle Eastern neighborhood south of Rogers Park.
While my hometown may have a disproportionate number of Thai places, it had no consistently good Indian food. This is something that my parents – two strangely Indian food-savvy individuals – remedied on every vacation by taking us to get “real” Indian food wherever we went. So while I may not be as confident on my knowledge of Indian cuisine as on, say, Thai or Mexican, I was highly impressed by the quality and diversity at Hema’s. I decided early on that I would order one tried-and-true dish alongside whatever new item I decided to try and wound up selecting an appetizer of tandoori chicken with an entrée of shrimp vindaloo, a spicy seafood curry. The tandoori was perhaps the best I’ve ever had. The marinade was expert – the yogurt, lemon juice and spices combined for a complex, cohesive flavor. It came served with cilantro, onions and lime, which gave it an almost Latin flair, and sweet mango chutney on the side. The shrimp vindaloo was great as well but (hopefully I’ll only have to say this once, as I pride myself in being able to handle pretty damn hot foods) a little too spicy for me. Whole shrimp and potato chunks stewed in a thick, curry-infused gravy is as good as it sounds, but some spice in this dish really got me, to the point that I couldn’t quite finish it. The shrimp vindaloo is delicious, but not for the faint of heart. Also, it was a little on the messy side: The gravy-covered shrimp are boiled and only partially peeled, so they have to be picked a little before eating.
I felt welcome enough at Hema’s, and while the service may not have been especially fast it wasn’t slow either. At least not until we needed to scurry out to catch the bus back to Evanston and our bill took its time getting to the table.
I really like the smell of incense, enough so that I always keep some in my room here and at home and prefer using it to other air fresheners. I mention this because Hema’s burns my favorite brand in-house (I could tell from the smell). The scent mixes with the spices used in the kitchen and the resultant potpourri is intoxicating but a bit overwhelming. Shortly after we were seated, my eyes started stinging from the smoke. The walls inside are a curry-orange that I’ve seen in several Indian restaurants before.
Date factor (4/5)
Hema’s Kitchen is great Indian food located in an interesting neighborhood that’s very different from Evanston. I think these two facts alone make it worth the short bus ride down. Plus, how often do most Northwesterners take the buses out of Evanston anyway? I think the trip down to Hema’s could be a great little adventure for you and your date. However, unless you are pretty comfortable with each other, watch out for messy and spicy food: nobody wants to come off as a slob or a wimp, and both can happen at a place like Hema’s.
Although I am categorically against Indian food, Hema’s may be the exception to my rule. I ordered the chicken korma, an entrée of chicken pieces cooked in a “mild” cashew curry sauce. The curry was precisely spicy enough for my palate, and I consider myself to have a reasonable heat tolerance. That being said, be forewarned that Hema’s food may be spicier than one might expect. The curry was flavorful and had a good texture, but the ratio of chicken to curry definitely required a side order of rice to absorb all the excess curry. I also ordered naan, buttered unleavened bread cooked in the restaurant’s tandoor. The naan was scrumptious, a mild and buttery counterpart to the spicy chicken korma. Overall, the offerings at Hema’s were just typical and somewhat unsatisfying Indian dishes. I felt only slightly more favorably towards Hema’s food than I do toward South Asian cuisine in general.
The service at Hema’s was disappointing at best. Our waitress was not quite fluent in English and seemed very uncomfortable while waiting tables. Although our drinks were consistently filled throughout the meal, the service still seemed painfully labored. Our bill was very slow to arrive at the table, and the wait staff was awkwardly shy. We were effectively served, but I was still very dissatisfied with the quality of service we received.
The street-view of Hema’s gives a somewhat shoddy and run-down impression, but this could not be further from the truth. Once through the set of double doors, patrons are greeted by a delightfully open dining room. Elegant chandeliers hang from the ceiling and traditional Indian artwork adorns the walls. The space is painted an inviting tone of orange that mimics the color of Hema’s curry. The tables are graced with tablecloths, but this touch of panache is offset by a layer of butcher paper that rests on top of the cloth. Hema’s has several sophisticated atmospheric elements working to its advantage, but these are contrasted by its substandard exterior.
Date Factor (2.5/5)
Hema’s is a decent restaurant for couples that love Indian food. The menu is enormous, offering almost any dish that one could dream of and the servings are reasonably sized. I’m no connoisseur of South Asian cooking, but I found the food at Hema’s to be flavorful and reasonably enjoyable. Nothing else about this restaurant, though, is particularly date-worthy: The atmosphere fails to strike a balance between formal and casual, leading to an awkward tension. The terrible service only contributes to this problem. Unless your companion is an Indian food fanatic, I would suggest skipping the trip down to Hema’s.
Even though we may not agree about the date-ability of Hema’s, many outside sources suggest that this is your best choice when craving Indian food. Don’t let Sarah’s bias crush your dreams of finding delicious Indian food. If you and your sweetie both are willing to take on the spice of a South Asian dining experience, the relatively short trek will be worth your while.
If you've had an experience at Hema's Kitchen or have any suggestions about where we should head next, please leave us a comment!