This place easily has the most flavorful, fresh, and home-cooked style South Indian food in the South Bay. In fact, it's some of the best South Indian restaurant food I've had in the US. It's also inexpensive.
I started off with a masala dosa ($5) which was just perfect: the crepe was crisp, but not overly so, and it was exactly as thin as it should be (too often are the crepes made thick and doughy).
The masala was also nicely done with a dash of onions and cilantro.
I also tried my brother's channa bhatura and both the bhatura (which is the fried bread) and the channa (chickpea curry) were excellent: light and simple.
Similarly, my sister-in-law's rava masala dosa was also superb with a great interplay of onions and green chili. Rava masala dosas are a bit more "rustic" and hearty than masala dosas, by the way.
The food was so good that I got an order of channa chapati as well ($5). The chapati was pristine, as if you own Indian mother made it. Flaky and soft, not oily, not dry, perfectly round.
I'd give Madras five stars but for four reasons:
1. The ordering system is inane. You wait in line to place your order at the counter and then wait for a table to open up. Turn-around is pretty quick, but all the waiting and standing is unnecessary. It's also hard to make additions after you've sat down (you have to go back in line, wait again, and then pay again).
2. This place is environmentally un-friendly. Many cheap Indian joints have a tendency to serve everything with disposable utensils and plates, and I found myself frustrated to see so much waste with styrofoam cups, plastic forks and paper plates. Worse yet, the owners of Madras Cafe come from a highly polluted country (India) and feel no remorse about polluting their much cleaner new home country. It's a real tragedy and embarrassing to the entire Indian community in the US.
3. This place has no ambiance whatsoever. It's literally four walls in a strip mall. There are no decorations on the walls, no music playing, nothing. When you go, it'll be packed full of Indian families (often with screaming children) and maybe a few adventurous or in-the-know Americans. It's not a place you want to hang around in.
4. They don't offer anything special or unusual on the menu. The menu here is virtually identical to the menus you'll find at pretty much every other South Indian restaurant in the US, or even the world. Why not branch out and offer some dishes with tofu? Broccoli? Vegetables other than just potatoes and chickpeas? How about offering soy milk for tea?
That said, the food here is excellent and I will return.