A dhaba, I learned last fall when working together with a few Indian co-workers, is a small, local restaurant, found off the side of the highways throughout India. Dhabas are typically open 24 hours a day, are usually located near fuel pumps, and besides serving food, they also have places to take a nap. In essence, it's an Indian truck stop. The kinds of foods that these dhabas make and serve are particularly home-y, so the word "dhaba" has become closely associated with homestyle Indian cooking.
In LA, I've tried two Indian restaurants now that have the word "dhaba" as part of the name, though they certainly aren't truck stops. They serve homestyle Indian food.
Just Dhaba is a small, slightly upscale Indian restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica that's been around for more than 30 years. Though the name is Dhaba, the restaurant serves typical Indian dishes that didn't seem differentiated as "homestyle." The food was decent, but the chicken in the chicken tikka masala was a little dry and the tofu saag (tofu instead of Indian cheese paneer) was somewhat bland. Dhaba's kitchen leans toward cooking "healthier" Indian food, which is probably why the dishes seemed the slightest bit off. Nonetheless, Dhaba's setting is very comfortable, and the outdoor patio in the back under the canopy of trees is a great place for a quiet dinner.
Ambala Dhaba is a relatively newer restaurant in Westwood, on Westwood Boulevard, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, that serves specifically "Indian homestyle cooking." Ambala Dhaba's menu did have a few things that were different from the usual chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo, and bengan bhartha. Ludhiana Chicken is something they are known for - a very earthy grilled chicken. Kadhai bindhi, dry cooked okra, also had a very earthy flavor. The food was good, but I just wasn't used to the different spices.
1781 Westwood Boulevard (just north of Santa Monica Boulevard)
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Dhaba Cuisine of India
2104 Main Street at Bicknell
Santa Monica, CA 90405