Angelenos love their spicy food and there are plenty of Indian restaurants all over Southern California that feed that need. From deliciously tasty spots near the beach like Tandoor-A-India to the modern offerings from Mint Leaf in Pasadena, there are choices galore to get your Tikka Masala or Saag Paneer fix. Los Angeles boasts one of the largest Indian-American populations in the United States, perhaps that is why there are so many Indian eateries to choose from. Some are small, family-run spots while others are chic, sophisticated restaurants in the best parts of town. What they all have in common is a dedication to recreating the special tastes of India, with exotic spices like saffron, tamarind, turmeric, garam masala and many others. Tandoori ovens abound, some made with stainless steel and powered by gas and others (more authentic and harder to find) made of clay and depending on charcoal to create the unique smoky taste that characterizes favorites like Tandoori Chicken. Most places will also let up on the spice level, for those who love the flavors of India but cannot take the heat; simply ask and the chef will adjust accordingly.
Spice Affair offers a fascinating amalgam of old and new Indian cuisine in a beautiful setting. Chefs Anupam Bhatia and Nimish Bhatia quickly made their marks with their creative offerings, as Spice Affair was rated the #1 restaurant in Beverly Hills for 2015 by TripAdvisor and also won the OpenTable Diner's Choice Award that same year. Start with a Tandoor-smoked Pineapple Quencher (a signature drink) and continue on to sample the Goat Cheese and Asparagus Tikki, Black Pepper Shrimp or Flash Grilled Sea Bass. You'll find classic curries, biryanis and masalas on the menu as well; all are served with a modern twist that with surprise and delight. (310-400-6800)
Electric Karma is the place to find authentic, yet unconventional, Punjabi cuisine prepared by owner and chef Paramjit Singh. With a warm, friendly and romantic atmosphere including a pretty open-air courtyard and the candle-lit dining room, the restaurant is perfect for date night. Movie buffs will love the Bollywood films projected silently above the main dining room as world and house music plays, and food lovers will enjoy the varied cuisine that ranges from traditional Vegetarian Samosas, seasoned with tamarind and sweet tomato chutney, to famous dishes like the Nirvana Chicken, cooked in coconut curry. Share the Tandoori Platter and get a taste of many of the best dishes that Electric Karma has on offer. (323-653-2121)
The Bombay Cafe
Well known for their array of fresh chutneys, The Bombay Cafe is a warm and inviting place attracting a broad range of patrons. Open for more than 25 years, this health-conscious restaurant offers traditional Indian cuisine highlighted with delicious seafood dishes and year-round fresh produce. The result is always flavorful, without the heavy oils found in some Indian dishes. Favorites include Saag Paneer, Aloo Gobi, Chicken Tikka Masala and the Frankie, a popular Indian "burrito," filled with your choice of meats or vegetables. The friendly staff is more than happy to help you negotiate the menu and if you are vegetarian, you'll find plenty of choices to satisfy your hunger here. (310-473-3388)
Gate of India
A familiar Hollywood restaurant established in 1980 and with a recent change in ownership, Gate of India continues to be one of the best in town. Chef-owner Boda Nirouia uses the large Tandoori ovens to serve up Northern Indian cuisine at just the level of spice you like, making favorites including Lamb Curry, Sag Paneer and Chicken Tikka Masala. And he's added dishes with flavors from Nepal, China, Thailand and elsewhere into the mix, creating a new set of fusions of different Asian flavors into delicious tastes. The restaurant is famous for its large, reasonably priced buffet served during the week, too. (323-874-6673)
Cardamom Indian Cuisine
Cardamom Indian Cuisine prides itself on making every food item from fresh ingredients – there's nothing canned or frozen in their kitchen. Even their spices are bought whole and ground in-house for optimum freshness. Offering dishes from all over India, this sophisticated eatery also features an extensive wine list, with pairings offered by the knowledgable wait staff or from co-owner Nasir Syed. He and his brother-in-law, Cardamom Chef Badrul Chowdhury, bring decades of restaurant experience to this special place. With a charcoal Tandoori oven, Chowdhury concocts dishes like Murgh Tikka (diced chicken breasts cooked in spices) and Tandoori Machli (marinated fish). For a completely different taste, try the Biryani or one of the flavorful curries; there are vegetarian choices and all the typical Indian breads on the menu as well. (323-936-1000)
East India Grill
East India Grill has been cooking up first-class Indian food since 1986, using their special secret recipes and their own homemade masala. Popular signature dishes include the unexpected Mango Ribs, Tandoori-oven cooked baby back ribs done in a soy marinade, as well as Lamb Ginger Chicken and Tomato Shorba. Other special tastes include Curried Mussels, Whole Fish (in a chili sauce) and Vegetable Pastarama (pasta in a curry sauce). Of course, East India Grill has all the traditional favorites as well on their menu, at this casual eatery with a special patio. They also offer a prix fixe dinner for one or two, as well as take out and delivery options. (323-936-8844)
Taj Mahal Cuisine of India
Chef-owner Dev Singh opened Taj Mahal Cuisine of India in Encino more than thirty years ago and he's still going strong with this award-winning restaurant guaranteed to tickle your tastebuds. Using a clay Tandoori oven, Singh creates classics like Chicken, Lamb or Fish Tikka Kabab as well as more unexpected dishes like Tandoor Rack of Lamb. His menu also features numerous vegetarian choices including Karahi Paneer and Bhindi Masala, but save room for dessert, which features Kulfi (Indian ice cream flavored with cardamom). To try a lot of different dishes, visit Taj Mahal Cuisine of India for their lunch buffet offered Tuesday through Saturday, or their Champagne brunch buffet every Sunday. (818-345-2244)
Streets of India Cafe
Streets of India Cafe is a family-owned restaurant that specializes in cuisine from India, Nepal and Tibet. It's a family-friendly place, too, where kids enjoy sipping Mango Lassi drinks and nibbling on Peshwari Naan, which is Tandoori-oven cooked sweet bread stuffed with raisins, nuts and coconuts. Adults rave about the Butter Chicken and the Shrimp Korma; plus, there are numerous vegetarian choices as well as a vegan section of the menu, with classic Indian dishes made with soy as a substitute for meat. Spice lovers need to try the various Vindaloo offerings and everyone will love the Ras Malai steamed dessert dumplings. (818-325-2500)
Tandoor-A-India is the go-to spot for great Indian food near the beach. Located up on the bluff in Playa del Rey, this homey restaurant has an atmosphere that is quiet, quaint and inviting. The place is justifiably famous for their Chicken Tikka Masala; other winners include their Samosa appetizers and numerous variations of Naan cooked in the Tandoor oven. Note that Naan costs extra, but is well worth the spend. Vegetarians will find plenty of tasty choices, with the Channa Masala and Aloo Gobi two popular favorites. Tandoor-A-India offers a lunch buffet for $8.95, as well as takeout, free delivery, catering and serves dinner seven nights a week. (310-822-1435)
If you are looking for top-notch Indian cuisine, the Mint Leaf in Pasadena is the place to be. Entering the exotic space, you'll feel as if you've stepped right into a Mumbai eatery, with its golden lamps, dark leather banquettes, red tapestry chairs and burnished wood floors. Under the helm of Chef Jayanta Paul, the Mint Leaf offers everything from perfectly cooked Garlic Naan (be sure to try the Mozzarella and Pine Nuts Naan, too) to lusciously spiced dishes including a sensational Goan Salmon Curry and a classic Chicken Vindaloo. Start with an order of Shrimp Pakoras, dip them into accompanying the fragrant mint sauce and you're on your way to a wonderful meal. Finish up with the unexpectedly sweet Carrot Halwa Pudding for dessert with its fragrant cardamom spice and you're sure to be planning your next visit as you pay the very reasonably priced bill. (626-460-8776)
About Jenny Peters
Jenny Peters – aka Jet Set Jen – is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist, editor and party columnist specializing in travel, entertainment, film, food, wine, fashion and the other good things in life. She is a founding/voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, who present the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards every January. Her favorite places to be are on the beach in Southern California playing volleyball, scuba diving with the sharks in warm tropical waters or strolling the streets and soaking in the atmosphere of one of the world's great cities (New Orleans and Florence are her favorites).
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