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Aug 31, 2012 11:02 PM

Musing in Fremont

Maybe a more apt title is "Gormandizing in Fremont", but musing is easier on the ears.

In the last three-four months I have figured out Fremont is a one-trick pony. A Kentucky derby level one-trick pony, but still in essence a one-trick pony. The cuisine of choice here is pan-Indian; mostly northern, some southern, and some in between. Let's begin with a discussion of the northern. What is commonly packaged as "Indo Pak" cuisine, is in essence more Pakistani than Indian. In my opinion its actually a good thing. It's a euphemism, the genesis of which is rooted in any business's DNA: profitability. The intent here, is to ensure the Indians visit as frequently as the Pakistanis.

There are at least five restaurants in this category, four with Pakistani roots, and one of Indian origin. The four are: Pakwan, Shalimar, Chutney's and Bismillah and the Indian is Tandoori-and-Curry. Having tried all five at least once, I do have a favorite: Bismillah. This under the radar, cash only, divey joint serves awesome kebabs and curry. Notable are the chicken seekh, the chicken boti, the chicken kofta curry, the lamb bhuna and the fantastic lamb biryani. Bismillah is all about no compromises and honest food - greasy, artery clogging curries and spicy grilled meats. The kofta curry is hot, the kofta (meatball) is spicy - the combined effect is lip-smacking goodness. The biryani as I understand is "pakka" style, i.e. the meat is cooked separately and then mixed with rice that is cooked separately, differing from the "kachcha" style or "dum biryani" that is popular in southern India, particularly Hyderabad. The naan is typical Pathani - north west frontier type, than the typical naan offered in Indian restaurants. From what I have heard and read, its chefs are former Pakwan alums, who opened this place. More power to them.

My second favorite is actually Tandoori-and-curry. One caveat about TnC is don't waste your time and money with the Sunday brunch - its nothing great. But do go at other times and order the Chandni Gosht or the Chicken Handi - again great curries made with unflinching honesty. The chicken and lamb biryani is also excellent. A common theme you will observe is that "unflinching honesty" usually translates into grease. Welcome to real muslim food from India.

A few words about the others: Pakwan is good, probably a toss-up for the second place. The curries at Shalimar are good, but the kebabs don't stand out. Chutney's has a more cleaner dining room, but basically is overly greasy and nothing really stands out, except the mango lassi.

There are also quite a few restaurants of Indian origin - Masala Grill, Biryani Bowl, India Grill (haven't tried) and a bunch of others. Masala Grill is good, but in Fremont good, is not good enough. The Tangri (leg) Kabab was disappointing, the Rogan Josh was OK (agreed, I am trying a Kashmiri specialty in a Hyderabadi restaurant), the Desi Chinese (Hakka Noodles) were insipid (like most Indian Chinese). It's really not as bad as I make it sound to be, but its not the first place I would go to especially if TnC and Bismillah were open.

If you are in Fremont, you must also try Peacock Indian Cuisine. I have tried the buffet three times, and its solid food. The Andhra sambar and vegetables (bagara baingan?) are usually very good. The Hyderabadi Biryani is a big draw - and is perhaps the best rendition I have had in a while. I am yet to make it for dinner which is served a la carte. Peacock is a safe bet. The bad for Hyderabadi food in my opinion is Biryani Bowl. I mean for fuck's sake if you call yourself "Biryani Bowl" and your eponymous dish doesn't stand out - especially in a place like Fremont, you've got problems. Paratha Point suffers from the same malady - mediocre parathas.

Since we are more or less in the South, let's discuss some south Indian joints. I have tried three - Amma's (Chettinad - below average, hit Anjappar in Milpitas). Woodlands - good solid (Udupi/Kannada-style south Indian) - good sambar/rasam/vadas; dosa was OK. Ganesh Bhavan - good sambar, great chutneys, better dosas (better than Woodlands) If I am correct its Andhra-style south Indian. Point to note, all three are in Newark. I am yet to try the Sarvanna Bhavan (someday...)

The remaining big potato is chaat. Some nominees from the "been there" list: Chaat Paradise, Chaat Bhavan, Chaat Cafe, Chaat Paradise (Mountain View, but they opened a branch in Fremont) Lovely Sweets and Snack and Chatpatta Corner.

I find Chaat Bhavan ovrerrated; I don't get it, I simply don't get it. My gold standard for testing a chaat restuarant is paani puri and on a good day, I think Chaat Bhavan's pani is good, but not Fremont good. However, Chaat Bhavan offers a rather diverse set of items - and a lot of them are quite good (e.g. methi puri, sprouts bhel - I like it because its a different take on Bhel, yes I know its technically chaat, some parathas)

For Fremont good, I maintain that if you want to eat awesome chaat especially Paani Puri head to Chatpatta Corner in Ardenwood.

The others: Chaat Paradise (OK, don't get what the deal is), Chaat Cafe (beer + chaat + "non-veg", e.g. chicken tandoori wrap) is good food, but doesn't stand out.

Now for the surprise. I think Indian food largely is holistic: the sum of the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. A good example is Lovely Sweets and Snacks. This divey, definitely not the most hygienic restaurant possibly serves some of the best Samosa Chaat and Dal Kachori Chaat I have ever had. In the Bay Area, I am sure you will find better Chole, better Samosas or better Chutneys, but LSS has the secret formula and it bloody works. I haven't tried anything else there, but the increasing girth is testament to dozens of Samosa Chaat (BTW, FWIW, one of the worst Samosa Chaats I have had was at Chaat Bhavan).

What else.....

I tried Wang's Kitchen (Indian Chinese); had the classics "Manchurian"/ Hot and Sour and all that good stuff. This is strictly for those who grew up thinking Chinese food is supposed to taste like this. I did, but I also spent seven gorgeous years wandering through the alleys of San Gabriel Valley, so in all honesty, I don't care much about it. I enjoy it once a year, but otherwise its basically more of the same "Schezwan" or "Manchurian" sauce.

I miss Los Angeles; Yunchuan Garden, Mariscos Chente (or wherever Sergio's cooking), Park's BBQ, Porto's....the list is endless, but thats not the point. I am here, and its about now.

I like Darda's Seafood near Ardenwood (next to Chatpatta Corner). Andy's Tofu House on Thornton serves pretty good Soon Tofu (Yay!). Some other notes - if you love beer, Fremont is quite mediocre - no Beer Revolution, let alone Toronado/O'Briens/Father's Office. There are three craft beer stores/"pubs". California Craft Beer - probably the most respectable. Mission Spirits and Cork-and-Cap (or some combination) also have a decent selection - nothing out of the ordinary, but yes, at least you won't end up with Coors Light.

Cheers. And welcome to Fremont.

p.s. I am sure many will disagree with me, and rightfully so. It's your opinion, you are entitled to it. So am I. :)

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  1. Wow, great report on Indian/Pak in Fremont. I'll need to try some on your list. I find Shalimar good enough, so will try the ones you recommend.

    My favorites in Fremont/Newark:
    QQ Noodle - best chewy, Chinese noodles. Tomato/egg is my favorite with a side of sliced garlic pork.
    Lee's Tofu in Newark - good Korean food, soon tofu, etc.
    Green Champa Garden, Fremont - good Thai/Laotian
    BK Bistro, Fremont - best HK style food, pricey Chowhound favorite
    Dragon BBQ Express, Fremont - fast food Chinese, cheap, good
    Lizhou Restaurant, Fremont - cheap 3 for $17 Chinese dishes w/ soup, good

    3 Replies
    1. re: hhc

      I'm actually quite surprised that you mentioned BK Bistro - I've been there a few times for dim sum, and have always thought it was sub-par. When you described it as "pricey Chowhound favorite", perhaps you meant instead Yums Bistro?

      I do, however, love Dragon BBQ Express for their cheap and humble steam-tray items (love their salt and pepper fish and salt and pepper chicken) and their roast duck has wonderful flavor. I no longer feel the urgent need to cross the bay and go to Cheung Hing.

      1. re: kcchan

        yes, I meant Yums Bistro not BK Bistro.

      2. re: hhc

        I definitely agree about QQ Noodle. They've got the best hand pulled noodles I've yet eaten.

        Based on the OP's mention, I went to Chat Patta Corner tonight to check out their panni puri. It's rare to find a place with as homey a feel.

        The woman behind the counter didn't seem to think I really wanted a panni puri, so she made me taste one first. There's nothing better than a freebee--- the puri was crisp and fresh, yet not too brittle to hold the potato and chickpeas. The tamarind water was very good, but not as potent as the one I had at Cafe Chaat in SF last week. This is a really fun dish and worth stopping here for.

        The bhel puri was excellent. Lots of red onion and assorted crunchy things. It came with a small cup of a hot sauce, which I slowly poured on to prevent anything from getting too soggy.

      3. I ate well at Chaat Bhavan but I didn't order chaat. Chana sag, chile paneer, and baigan bartha were all good.

        Have you tried the Afghan places?

        Have you tried the cumin lamb at Darda? There are some reports on the original Milpitas branch with tips on what to order.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I'm very interested in reports of Darda at the foot of the dumbarton bridge.

          Great overall writeup, although after all that information I think the "one trick pony" lede doesn't work well.... that's a lot of different foods, and you haven't thrown in the afghan places.

          1. re: bbulkow

            Agreed--this seems like reverse psychology. losfelizhound, do you work in PR for the city of Fremont? Because you're making it sound awfully appealing.

            On your list I've only been to Chaat Bhavan and really liked the methi puri. Lots of great tips in your post, thanks for writing it!

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            I tried a few things at Darda in Fremont last night. The menu has over 200 items, so doing some research beforehand seems essential.

            The cumin lamb was fine, but under-spiced by a long shot and not especially fragrant. The lamb was sliced extremely thin, and there were onions, green peppers, and whole cumin seeds.

            There is a thick and a "thin" green onion pancake, and the server recommended the thin one. This "thin" one was about an inch thick, with a generous coating of sesame seeds. The bread was fresh, huge, not overly tough, and better suited toward a group than solo diners.

            The chow mein was okay, and I opted for the lamb with housemade (hand-shaved) noodles variety. I really liked the noodles themselves. None was especially long and most were really thick. Some were much thicker than rice cakes. Despite no two pieces in any way resembling one another, though, all were cooked the right amount. The preparation wasn't that great. Very oily and no charring.

          3. Wow, all of these sound sooooo good - we have yet to find any good Indian in Oakland where we live, although there's one good Afghani place downtown.

            Might have to trek out to Fremont (oh, the traffic nightmare!)......

            1. I really enjoyed this post. I'm not a foody, but I'm a Fremont resident. If you have time, I'd love to get your thoughts on my first post:


              1. 23 months and 25 additional pounds later it is time for an update. Fremont has arrived. There is a Whole Foods Market and a Boudin SF to boot. Yet, it continues to be a city dominated by Indian and Chinese culinary options. In spite of the fact that now we have The Counter, Blaze and Pielogy. Yes, while both Blaze and Pieology are not a Mozza, they are still a mile and a moon better than Moutain Mike's and the other "pizza" options in Fremont.

                Where has my opinion changed (for the better):
                - Chaat Bhavan: I get it. Finally. Rich, yet home-style Punjabi food. I still don't enjoy the chaat as much, but there are many other things that I do. Namely - parathas, puris, vegetables - malai paneer, okra and many others. Sprouts Bhel continues to be a winner.
                - Chaat Paradise: Basically west-Indians (Gujuratis) run this joint. Again their USP is to offer home-style food, which is not as rich as Chaat Bhavan yet, delicious. I do think their chaat is better than most others, but doesn't hold a candle to the winner in my eyes - Chatpatta Corner.
                - Shalimar: I am doing a 180 here, when I say that I really enjoy the Chicken Leg Quarter at Shalimaar. It is probably my favorite for the Chicken Leg Quarter among all IndoPak joints. The curries continue to be great (in the IndoPak tradition).
                - Arka: Wasn't reviewed during my last post, "High-end" Indian with beers on tap. The quality and freshness of the food was evident. Curries had subdued flavors and were not swimming in oil (like most IndoPak joints). One visit, during which the owner was pushing for a return to try their buffet (why?!). The organic tandoori chicken was succulent and flavorful (in spite of the added color), the shrimp salaan was the highlight and the Chicken 65 which is usually greasy, wasn't. Will return for sure - though its expensive compared to the rest of the pack.
                - Anand Bhavan: For South Indian, I prefer this over Sarvanna. My preference maybe motivated by the fact that they have Gongura Soup a hot, sour and spicy concoction that arguably is the best cure for a cold. Only if you can survive it. The dosas and the rest of the south Indian fare are not a killer, but maybe I prefer it as I find it less mediocre over the more mediocre Sarvana (see below).

                My 2 cents on the general south Indian fare in the Bay Area - most of it is from Andhra Pradesh, very few joints are from Tamil Nadu (e.g. Madras Cafe in South Bay) or Karnataka or let alone Kerala. Ask anyone from these states and they would pick their cuisine as "South Indian", but in reality, let's face it we are all eating Andhra cuisine for better or worse. I do desire that someone like Adiga's from Bangalore opens shop here. It will open palettes to an entire new spectrum of dosas and sambar. Full disclosure: I am not from Karnataka.

                Where has my opinion changed (for the worse):
                - Lovely Sweets & Snacks: Two consecutive disappointing sessions of samosa chaat - including one where they offered an extra serving to make up for what I think was their knowledge of the poor quality. On my "do not enter" list.
                - Saravana Bhavan: They hadn't opened shop in Fremont when I wrote the previous post, but 2-3 trips later, I continue to have mixed feelings; nothings wows me here...but maybe the fault is mine. I expect greatness in a temple of mediocrity. And mediocrity may not be so bad after all. Nevermind.
                - Wang's Kitchen: It's so boring that even someone who grew up with it, can't have it more than once in 2-3 years. Meh.

                Business as usual:
                - Tandoori and Curry: Has become my favorite joint for IndoPak. I think the Lamb Biryani is the best I have had in the Bay Area (on a recent trip to Bombay I lamented the poor quality of Biryani to my hosts. Much to their annoyance, I reported, "Fremont does better", what I meant TnC does better; this is not to say that you can't find better Biryani in Bombay, because you can). Continue to stay away from the buffet. But Chandni Ghosht, Bhuna Lamb, Achaari Chicken and the seekh kababs make for a delightful meal.
                - Chatpatta Corner: Awesome, underrated and off-the-radar. Real-deal pani puri, real-deal Delhi-style chaat. Anyone who has had better in the Bay Area needs to post a response, because I do strongly believe it is hard to beat Chatpatta.
                - Bismillah: If not for their random closing times (usually anytime after 9PM, though they claim they close at 10), the cash only policy, they are still one of my favorites. Not so big anymore on their biryani.
                - Pakwaan: Try the "Tala Gosht"; translates to "Fried Meat", it is a lamb curry, that is greasy goodness at its finest. Pakwaan may also get my vote for the worst biryani among the IndoPak joints (close second is Shalimar).

                What else have I tried in Fremont lately:
                - Sala Thai (1 and 2): Respectable Thai food, but nothing outstanding.
                - Banh Thai: I prefer Banh over Sala. More interesting menu as far as I can recall than Sala
                - Gangnam Tofu House: Respectable Soon Tofu and banchan. Their seafood pancake is actually quite impressive
                - Pepper Bros: Closest to real Sichuan/Yunnan that you can find in the FUN cities. Spicy Town is a fraud when it comes to the Scoville index.
                - Little Fat Sheep: In Newark, a location of the international hot pot chain. I do think the quality of the meats and veggies was superior to most other hot pot joints that I have been to in the Southland.
                - Food Talk Cafe: Taiwanese/Cantonese (not sure) - great Congee and some Cantonese favorites like fried chicken wings. Interesting and warrants a few more visits.
                - Golden Bay Chinese: Couple of visits, oscillated between good to average, never returned. Claims to be Cantonese but has a lot of Sichuan style dishes (memory is hazy; located in same lot as Shalimar.
                - Asian Pearl: Vastly mediocre dimsum. Nothing memorable. Go to Mayflower for a less mediocre version. Go to LA if you want the real deal.
                - #Can'tRememberName: Dimsum joint on Paseo Padre and Walnut. In the same lot as The Counter. Interesting dimsum (only for lunch?). Will return.
                - #Cant'RememberName2: Hotpot joint next to Food Talk Cafe. Customize your hotpot, and do what the fuck you want with it. Five different broths yet, nothing that was awesome. Good concept, average execution.
                - Basil Leaf: For all your Pho-desires. Servicable version if you don't desire to drive anywhere.
                - Com Tham Namh: I prefer this over Basil Leaf, but there's a glut of new Viet places in the vicinity that one needs to try to get a sense of who is the real deal. Or maybe just head to San Jose or Milpitas.
                - Mayflower Seafood: Good, but not great. Koi Palace is next, so we'll see how that compares to the live seafood joints in the Southland
                - Coco Chicken: Korean Fried Chicken. Unremarkable. One visit and that was it.
                - De Afghanan: Been to both - the restaurant and the takeout joint. Terrific kakabs. The takeout joint is one of the best cheap eats in Fremont and deserves the accolades it gets!

                To all you wannabe restaurateurs: we could easily do with all of the following. It's a captive audience and the market research really isn't rocket science. My Fremont wishlist:
                - Real diner (e.g. Griddle Cafe)
                - Real deli (e.g. Langer's)
                - Real Mexican (e.g. La Parilla; yeah, even La Parilla would be OK)
                - Real gastropub (e.g. too many to name)
                - Real Sichuan (e.g. Chengdu Taste)
                - Real K-BBQ (e.g. Soot Bull Jeep)

                14 Replies
                1. re: losfelizhound

                  when Dungeness crab season comes back around, do try Yum's Bistro. if you're from the southland, getting across the Dumbarton or S.Mateo bridges won't seem that distant, and your dim sum options and other regional Chinese foods expand greatly. hyperbowler created a sprawling thread about regional Chinese spots, quite a few just on the other side of the water from Fremont.

                  1. re: losfelizhound

                    I notice you don't have Mumbai Chowk on your "I tried it" list, any particular reason? (It's not that far from Pepper Bros, so you must get over there).

                    Love the writeup.

                    1. re: losfelizhound

                      Killer write up, thank you!

                      Chaat Bhavan is where we go when husband's craving chaat and I want a dinner thali. I've always found it satisfying but not stellar, will head back in with your recs next time.

                      I haven't had a dosa in the Bay Area that bests Saravana Bhavan's, would love to hear if you've found a good one.

                      For your beer needs - there may be something closer to Fremont, but if you haven't found one yet, The Bistro in Hayward is the most unpretentious, least douchebaggy good beer place I've been to in the Bay Area. Hayward also has an excellent, small wine shop called Doc's.

                      1. re: daveena

                        Did you really mean that _all_ the bay area good beer places are "douchebaggy" and the one in hayward is the least?

                        I don't find anything particularly bad about Stein's in Mt View. They get busy and it's hard to spend time with each customer over each pint. Same thing the Refuge in San Carlos.

                        On the south-east portion of the bay, I very much liked my visit to Drake's in San Leandro. They were a little pretentious, but they also accommodated my party's "give us 4 oz of everything" order without a fuss, so the douchebag in the room might have been us.

                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Haven't been to all the good beer places in the Bay Area yet, can't say for sure :)

                          I just really appreciate how unpretentious the staff and patrons are at The Bistro. It's so far from anywhere most people would want to be that you get a no-bro, low-hipster quotient that can be very pleasant. I think I posted a few years back on my inaugural Pliny the Younger experience (my first time going to The Bistro) and just really loved that most of the patrons there were there to hear their friends during open mike night. No crazy lines or waits.

                        2. re: daveena


                          @Moto: Certainly. Haven't had a chance to make the trek to Daly City but plan to do so.

                          @bbulkow: I did try Mumbai Chowk in late 2012; went with the Bombay menu and it wasn't remarkable. Much has changed with the new expanded menu. Will report back when I do.

                          @daveena: I haven't found anything that I liked in Fremont (California Craft Beer is good, but didn't have food, not sure if that has changed recently).

                          I will certainly try The Bistro. Hayward ain't too far. I do plan to try Saravana, but I think do try Madras Cafe in the South Bay!

                          1. re: losfelizhound

                            Yum's Bistro is in Newark, not Daly City. No reason to wait for crab season to try it.


                            1. re: losfelizhound

                              Millbrae and Foster City both have above average Chinese eats ; Koi P. in Daly C. has the big reputation but until you try a few places for yourself ....

                              1. re: moto

                                If you're in Fremont, the Koi Palace in Dublin is probably more convenient.

                          2. re: losfelizhound

                            Not sure how I forgot to report this one:

                            - Mirchi Cafe: Unusual stateside, but fairly commonplace in the subcontinent are joints that serve regional versions of burgers, shakes and fries. Mirchi Cafe is in that genre offering Halal versions of burgers (beef/chicken), fried chicken et al. For obvious reasons, most of the menu is spiced up, but not heavily. I enjoyed the Punjabi Chicken Burger, Chicken Pepper Steak (aka Pakistani version of a Philly Cheese Steak) and the Mirchi Fried Chicken on several visits in the past couple of years.

                            It's a small joint that fill up fairly quickly, so calling up ahead is advised.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                I haven't tried the pizza, but maybe will do that soon and report back.

                                1. re: losfelizhound

                                  Thank you for your reporting from Fremont. Nine years ago I had a client in the area and focused on Indian and Afghani eats mostly. It's great to hear an update of who's still around and more importantly, who's good these days.

                            1. re: losfelizhound

                              Tough work but someone has to do it! :-) Thanks for the exhaustive report.

                              (I had to chuckle a little on reading the 2012 characterization of Fremont as a "one-trick pony" since that represents a mathematically infinite improvement from a zero-trick pony, which was Fremont's restaurant reputation for much of the town's past history. As recently as the later 1990s, Fremont was famous for having only four non-chain restaurants, albeit those four offered some good variety.)