Chennai is packed with inexpensive ‘meals’ joints ('messes') serving lunch and dinner thalis (all-you-can-eat meals) and tiffin (snacks) like idli (spongy, round fermented rice cakes), vada (doughnut-shaped deep-fried lentil savouries) and dosa (savoury crepes). Hotel Saravana Bhavan is always a quality veg choice. In the Muslim Triplicane High Rd area, you’ll find great biryanis (fragrant, spiced steamed rice with meat and vegetables).
There's plenty of upmarket dining: classier Indian restaurants and international cuisines are on the rise.
Chennai may not have the same killer street-food reputation as Delhi or Mumbai, but there are some sensational South Indian street-side delicacies around, especially in Mylapore, George Town, Egmore and T Nagar, and along Marina Beach. If you'd like some guidance, Storytrails runs fun story-themed food-tasting tours through George Town.