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Interesting ethnic and unique/regional places in and around Palo Alto

We live in SF and are squarely disappointed with the range of Indian food in the city. I understand there are many going Indian places in and around Palo Alto/Menlo. In particular, can anyone recommend a southern Indian place, not just dosas, but other items as well.
Thanks all very much.

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  1. Amber India in Mountain View (close to PA border) is my favorite and I'll bet others will agree. http://www.amber-india.com/

    You definitely need a reservation if you are going.

    1 Reply
    1. re: katg

      If you do go to Amber, try the goa fish curry-- succulent halibut in a delicious curry. It's unique from what you get at standard indian restaurants.

    2. Amber's "Frontier Naan" is another delicious specialty of the house -- it's a sweet/savory combination of flavors.

      Their lamb Rogan Josh is also delicious. As is the chicken Tikka Masala -- I know that's one you can order everywhere but it's especially good here!

      1. Ethnic? Indian is Ethnic?

        Amber is very good. Medium-upscale, subtle spices.

        I have a soft spot for Suraj in RC, just because so many of my indian co-workers have dragged me there, but admit to not having been there in a few years, and never for dinner. Darbar in PA is above ordinary but not southern oriented, and not really worth the trip. Many like Passage to India, I say "meh".

        Some of my reference indian food is Sue's in MV, but Sue's long gone and the vindaloo is irregular. They've even changed the name.

        6 Replies
        1. re: bbulkow

          Yeah, Sue's used to be so good! Disappointing indeed.

          On the peninsula, I think the majority of Southern Indian restaurants are Silicon Valley techie hangouts at lunch and family-oriented at dinner time, not really destination restaurants one would want to make a trip down from SF for. But perhaps I'm wrong and have just been to the wrong places (e.g. Saravana Bhavan).

          You're right bbulkow, "Ethnic" is kind of an odd term to use these days, especially on CH where everyone is so well-versed in SO MANY different cuisines! It makes it hard to make any recommendations when the request is so general (other than the Southern Indian comment).

          1. re: operagirl

            I'd say yes to all that, except your "not a destination" comment - even though I know what you mean. French Laundry is a "destination" - Falafel's Drive Inn isn't. But ... it's it? Some of those places are certainly "worth the trip". I love the combo of techie lunches and huge birthday dinners - feels very indian to me. And - now that I've got a taste for it, I'd drive an hour for a good chicken 65, or invent an errand at Southern Lumber ("honey, wouldn't that molding look better in white ash? Darn, Minton's doesn't stock that size of white ash.") so I can stop for a banana milkshake at Falafel's Drive In. That's where the CH ethic comes in and is so different from - say - Zagats.

            The worst problem is those places aren't consistent, which makes a long, salivating drive a bit of a risk. Best to organize a dinner with local friends.

          2. re: bbulkow

            You might enjoy this old post by site founder, Jim Leff,
            Unfortunately, the further link to his editorial is dead.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              As you move South of Palo Alto, the better restaurants. It isn't Southern Indian, but I like the Chaat at that Chaat place in Sunnyvale with a Fremont branch. Do you remember the name, Melanie? I know you reported on the Fremont place.

              BTW, Here's the content of the old lost editorial. I sort of liked the special reports and saved them off before the conversion.


                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Ah ... remembered ... Lovely Sweets. Thanks though. I like the Sunnyvale location better than the Fremont location.

          3. Southern Spice in Mountain View for Andhran cooking,

            1. Amber India is delicious but it's a pan-Indian menu with just a few Southern dishes. As Melanie mentioned, Southern Spice (El Camino just west of San Antonio) is the premier Southern Indian specialist in the area if you want meat as well as vegetarian dishes. There are lots of good vegetarian choices in the area. For a full restaurant the best overall choice is probably Saravana Bhavan in Sunnyvale (Mary just south of Fremont). Madras Cafe (El Camino at Bernardo) is my favorite choice for dosas. Hyderabad House in downtown Palo Alto has some Hyderabad dishes as well. The only one of these places that is remotely fancy is Amber India; you would be travelling for the food, not the decor.

              But places keep opening and closing all the time so I may have missed some. I haven't made it to Crazy Frank's Desi Pizza yet, for instance, but it's on my list to try.


              3 Replies
                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  No, and I guess others didn't either - it look closed the last time I went by. This is a tough location for restaurants.


                  1. re: mdg

                    Owner split. Crazy Frank's Desi Pizza closed and recently the other owner re-opened it as Desi PIzza ... however, his resume is online.


              1. An interesting and unexpected choice is Shiok, the Singaporean restaurant in Menlo Park.
                Singaporean food is a heady mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisines. Singaporean Indian is largely of Tamil origin, which is South Indian.

                Shiok's curries with potatoes and carrots cooked in Tamil curry sauce

                Other vegetable curry options with flavored rice

                Many banana leaf dishes

                Mee goreng, one of the most common hawker stall foods in Singapore, thought of as a Malaysian dish, originally hails from India. Shiok's version is stir-fried mee with shrimp, squid, onions, peas, carrots, potatoes, eggs, cabbage, beansprouts. If you order vegetarian, it will be closer to the real Tamil version.

                Shiok also has samosas - minced beef(!), with onions, potatoes with curry and spices, stuffed in crispy pastry and served with yogurt mint sauce

                I am not crazy about some of Shiok's regular Singaporean offerings (laksa has right flavors, but limp noodles and no intensity (thin) of flavor. Char kway teow is only 30% kway teow, the rest a bad approximation of mee noodles) but their roti prata is good, and popiah is worth trying.

                Prices are okay. Not cheap, but cheaper than Amber India. Ambiance is comparable to Amber India, and much cozier. A nice little place definitely worth checking out.

                1. Though not Indian, Back A Yard in Mountain View is definitely a unique/regional restaurant. They serve delicious Carribean food, including some of the best jerk and plantains you will find anywhere. Prices are very reasonable. Lots of positive reports if you do a search, here's the most comprehensive thread:


                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Back a Yard is actually in Menlo Park. If it was in Mountain View, I would be there every week.

                    1. re: Humbucker

                      I stand corrected. You can probably tell that I don't get out to the Peninsula much.

                  2. Actually, one of the better South Indian places is right on El Camino in San Mateo: Anapoorna. It's proper South Indian vegetarian cooking, with a variety of good dosas, and a decent thali or two. If you're willing to go all the way to Santa Clara, Dasaprakash may well offer the best South Indian in the Bay Area. My other favorite is Amber Cafe in Mountain View: same owners as Amber restaurant, but a menu that offers smaller portions and snack-type foods. Weekends, they usually have an excellent chicken biryani. (You can do a search on this board for all three restaurants.)

                    1. I live in Menlo Park and I really don't think this is where you want to be for Indian food. Head to Sunnyvale/Santa Clara/San Jose. I really enjoyed Chaat Paradise recently on the Mountain View/Sunnyvale border.