By Madhava Smullen on 13 Feb 2010
Spanish-style stucco walls, red tile floors, stained glass windows and rough cedar woodwork give Kalachandjis a unique ambiance.
With the economic crisis introduced in 2007 still reigning strong, most businesses continued to struggle in 2009. But if Kalachandji’s performance last year is anything to go by, the one thing people aren’t willing to go without is Hare Krishna food.
For the Dallas-based restaurant, 2009 was its best year ever, with the 45,987 customer haul topping last year’s 42,766 patrons.
“I think we’ve done well because we offer a healthy menu that is sensibly priced, with atmosphere that compares to higher-priced places,” says manager Durasaya Dasa. “It’s those poor high-end restaurants that are having a hard time—it has become unfashionable to be ostentatious, spending hundreds of dollars to eat out. ” Kalachandji’s has always been a hit—when it was established next to the Dallas Radha-Kalachandji ISKCON temple that gave it its name back in 1982, the Dallas Morning News named it one of the city’s top ten new restaurants. But the eatery, tucked away so carefully in a residential area you could almost miss it, seems to have only gone from strength to strength. In 2005, D Magazine named Kalachandji’s one of its Best Neighborhood Restaurants, calling it “A mind-blowing assortment of hot and cold, dairy and non-dairy, and sweet and savory delights.” The restaurant was one of Dallas Observer’s Best of Dallas in 2006, AOL Cityguide’s Best in 2007 and 2008, and was dubbed this year’s Number One Best Vegetarian Restaurant in North Texas by WFAA TV’s annual A-List, which features more than 2,000 of the best local businesses.
There’s a lot that makes Kalachandji’s standout from the crowd. For a start, its staff look at the bigger picture, practicing the timeless Ayurvedic art of cooking for the body, mind and spirit. Not a common statement of intent in today’s culinary world—can you imagine Pizza Hut or Olive Garden using that as their tagline?
“Our mission is to provide vegetarian cuisine that delights the palate, promotes good health, makes one’s mind peaceful and elevates one’s consciousness,” Durasaya says.
That’s not to say that simply giving people a good meal isn’t important. Kalachandji’s buffet (strictly vegetarian and strictly fresh—no frozen or canned vegetables are allowed in the kitchen) changes daily but always includes some form of: soup, rice, vegetables, crispy wafers called pappadams, pakora savories, chutney relish, pickle, homemade breads, tamarind tea, salad, Halvah and rice pudding for dessert, and an International Entrée that changes every evening including lasagna, enchiladas, quiche, and barbecued tofu.
Okay, you’re probably drooling by now. Sorry. I’ll stop.
For many, Kalachandji’s décor is almost as much of an attraction as its food. Inside are Spanish-style stucco walls, red tile floors, stained glass windows and rough cedar woodwork. Meanwhile the almost surreal outdoor courtyard—try to imagine where the elves from Lord of the Rings might eat and you’ll be close—features elegant arches, flowers, fountains and a large tree growing out of the center of the floor. Most tables are protected behind a roofed colonnade, and have heaters underneath them for winter and misters above for summer.
It’s a place people want to keep coming back to, and many of Kalachandji’s customers are regulars—lunch brings clientele from nearby businesses, government offices, and the medical establishment, while dinner draws people from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and beyond.
One out-of-towner, Brian from California, commented: “There are hidden finds and then there are hidden gems like Kalachandji’s.”
Another customer—Justin of Forth Worth—quipped: “I submitted to gluttony at Kalachandji’s. I would regret it, but it was delicious.”
Others seem to have discovered the true essence of what makes Kalachandji’s so special. “Being in the Hare Krishna Temple, the food has always seemed to be more authentic and prepared with just a tad more care,” said Rick from Dallas. “And, the overall dining experience is consistently peaceful and serene.”
Even celebrities seem to flock to Kalachandji’s—recent customers include actress Reese Witherspoon, musical artist Moby, and basketball player Chris Bosh. “The soul singer Erykah Badu lives nearby and visits often, as does the country rock band Vince Vance and the Valiants,” says Durasaya. “If they’re looking for a veggie restaurant when they come to town, they always find us, because after twenty-seven years of service we’re the oldest and most well-known.”
In 2010 and beyond, the staff of Kalachandji’s plan to continue their success as they always have—with hard work. “We just remodeled the bathrooms and put a new floor in the kitchen during our annual Christmas break,” Durasaya says. “And we want to help the temple by putting in a new parking lot. We always just try to do our very best, and to keep making improvements.”