The search has come to an end. The best Indian food in the continent is to be found in a strip mall on Red Hill Avenue in Tutsin CA. It's called Dosa Place, and produces dosas that would make most chefs in Chennai sweat. Luckily, its well hidden by Del Taco and Chinese takeouts.
Ok, so its a little bit of a hyperbole. The place isn't the best Indian food but it is - and there's no question about it - the best dosas on the face of the ...ummm... continent. They make a lot of other stuff (including the unavoidable chicken tikka masala and lamb vindaloo) but stick fairly and squarely to their dosas and come away blessed. I'm not talking "authentic" or "really nice for America". I'm talking real dosas, the kinds that would divert attention from Chennai films and Andhra politics. A real, true brown work of genius.
For those who dont know much about these matters, a dosa is a crepe made from fermented rice-lentil batter. The critical parts of a good dosa are the batter itself (which is all important and somehow very difficult to make) and the sambhar that you dip pieces of it into when eating. It's made in a style very similar to a French crepe; batter spread on the tawa (a flat hot surface) and then folded over. Paper dosa is more complex - its starts out like a regular dosa spread on that tawa, then the chef scrapes away most of the batter leaving just a thin layer. The resulting crepe is paper-thin and very crisp. Paper dosas are very difficult to make - On the rare occassions that I tried my hand they burnt, came out too thick, had holes from the scraping or simply refused to get off the tawa.
I started with some very promising idlis. That's another thing that's available everywhere but very difficult to make really well but no such trouble here. This could tango with the best of the Shanti Sagars in Bangalore. The critical component - the firmly conservative pearl-onion sambhar - also passed with flying colors, though the coconut chutney could be better. I then moved on to the paper masala, which was a four-foot wonder of a crisp. The regular and the mysore variants were excellent too. I've been told the egg is great too, and there's also a rather intriguing jam-n-cheese dosa for ABCD kids which I suspect is better avoided. Prices were quite good at $4-6 per dosa (easily a small meal each). They offer some other Andhra dishes too - I tried the Chapala Pulusu and came away interested but not impressed. It was good (and very very very hot), but not rhapsody-class.