Wading through South Bay's great Indian restaurants
I've been working in the South Bay (sunnyvale) for the past few years and have had a good time eating periodically at some of the great Indian restaurants around. I know we have some decent places where I live down in southern California, but man, I'm not sure there's anywhere I know of in the Country with such an abundance of Indian food as what you have just driving down El Camino from Sunnyvale to Santa Clara. What a gem.
Anyhow, I've done a fair amount of searching on these boards and some sleuthing of my own, but I don't really feel like I've found my true go to places, nor do I feel I'm the foremost expert on Indian. But I do love it.
so what are your go to places for Indian in the South Bay? A few of mine:
Madras Cafe: (1177 W El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA). Really good South Indian vegetarian food at Madras Cafe is really Great dosas (paper dosa, butter masala dosa), good idly, etc. Everything I've had there is good so far.
Shalimar: (1146 W El Camino Real Sunnyvale, CA 94087). The place is a hole if ever there was one. But I've had some good food there. Good tandoori meats, if I remember correctly.
Peacock (2798 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA). I really liked their biryani. Excellent. This place isn't afraid of their spice. Also good were some of the sino-Indian stuff, like Chili Chicken and this other dish (chicken 66 or something like that).
Chaat house (a few around town). Pretty good chaat, as you would hope.
For places that are a bit more upscale, and more palatable to on native Indians, I do like Passage to India in Mountain View. I could probably eat nothing but their butter chicken (murgh makhani) for a week or two and be happy. Also, pretty kick butt aloo gobhi (cauliflower and potato). I find passage to india more flavorful than the Amber Cafe franchises, but those will do in a "western-friendly Indian place" too.
Anyhow, I'm sure there are more that are escaping my mind. But what are your places?
Are there any good Punjabi style non-vegetarian restaurants in South Bay? Seems most of the restaurants in the area are Pakistani or southern indian.
As a reference there's a place called Punjabi Tandoor with locations in San Diego and Anaheim that was one of my favorites and I haven't yet found a place up here where I prefer the curries.
To your original question, adam (great avatar picture, by the way!) in Sunnyvale off Lawrence Expressway, I had many good experiences at Sneha, but haven't been back recently. Big crowded bustling place, open every day lunch and dinner. Location was previously an unrelated breakfast restaurant 20 years ago. A distinctive eccentricity I recall at Sneha was a machine dispensing soft-serve mango ice cream, that emitted eerie pneumatic gasps and sighs.
For creative upscale Indian food, Palo Alto's Junoon was able but it's gone. Another, worth some visits to explore dinner menu (or for lunch, when it has a more lavish and varied buffet than most, vegetarian on one half), Sakoon in downtown MV had a very hip creative Michelin-recommended kitchen when it opened about 2009, but its maverick chef and managers moved on, and the ownership dialed back the innovation level to a more conservative, recognizably Indian, menu; still worthwhile, and decent happy-hour bar dining specials when I last dropped in at that time.
Anyone been to Aachi AappaKadai in Sunnyvale? I went by last night (because Taste Buds was closed on Monday). I especially enjoyed the appam (chicken keema), and the idly, which soft, moist and not dry or overly chewy at all. The masala dosa was pretty good, though I think I like Madras Cafe better (just a block down the road). I also had the chettinad chicken... quite spicy and complex as it should be. We also had the vegetable thali, which also was good, though I don't really have much experience to draw on there for point of comparison.
Overall, I was quite pleased with the meal.
I had the chettinad chicken and the masala dosa same as you during the very same week.
I am happy to report it was excellent fare. The chicken was truly spicy as in not just redolent with heat but had plenty of ground whole spice.
The appams were pretty fluffy and springy as they should be.
There is a mutton dish at their other Santa Clara location that I also highly recommend. I didn't see it on this menu, maybe I didn't peer at it long enough.
I like the Menu in Mountain View, 2700 W. El Camino. (At Palo Alto border.) http://www.themenuindia.com
Attractive setting, organic food, nice wine bar in back, nice owner, and good food, in my opinion. The lunch buffet is tasty, and they change the offerings daily. (I know there are some who are not fans of a buffet, but their offerings are fresh, varied, an not greasy.) I like it better than Amber, however, I do love Amber Cafe. Their veggie Thali is just right.
Some of my favorites:
Mumbai Chowk - in Fremont (is that the south bay?), right on the east side of the dumbarton bridge.
Tumeric - a little fancier, right in the Sunnyvale "town center", one of my favorite lunch buffets.
Aachi AappaKadai - there are two now, I like the ex-mexican-restaurant. There's a particular dish like a bread bowl with curry in it they specialize in.
Mayuri - means Peacock, but isn't Peacock. Love the dipping sauce for the dosas. Wide menu and can pack a wallop. Haven't tried the wednesday dinner buffet.
Real Ice Cream - flavors you've never seen before, right behind Aachi AappaKadai.
Shah - Pakistani
Sneha - huge room. Chicken 65.
Bengali Sweets - take out a bunch of sweets. Mmmm.
Kwality Sweets - ditto.
Arka - fancy looking place, food isn't as brilliant
Spice Hut - steam tray hole in the wall. Don't love it as much as others.
ALSO - I was in bangalore for almost a week and didn't have food as good as we have here. I know there are better places there - but even my co-workers didn't steer me right. We have REALLY good Indian food.
Funny, I had the exact same experience in Bangalore! Now Mumbai was a different story. Man I ate well there.
I'll have to try Turmeric for lunch. I've been there for dinner once or twice, and don't recall it being that memorable, but when you are dining solo like I was, you get such a small sampling. You can order wrong at even the best places. Anything in particular you like there?
Great other recommendations too. I'll have to try Mayuri.
(BTW, which aachi aappakadai has the good ice cream behind it? the one in Sunnyvale or Santa Clara?)
I dont recall how he described it, but Farris's OUTDOOR IFTAR PIX from BLR looked incredible. I'm pretty sure he said it was really good, in not amazing.
>We have REALLY good Indian food.
Well, I dont want to come off as one of the French people complaining about american bread and butter or a Chinese person suggesting USA chinese ranges from bad or OK, but I'm my experience the Indian resto food here [EB, SB, SF] is "pretty good" at best ... but the range isnt that great [although improving with places like GAJALEE]. Most of the Indo places are cheapish [so not the best quality vegetables for example] and use a lot of oil [DOSA does give you the option to pay more for higher quality].
It would be like if the only american restos in your town did a good slice of pepperoni pizza or a good BLT. A good slice is great but ... Like I do like butter chicken for example, but it's a bit cynical.
I have not been to the really expensive Indian places [MANTRA, JUNOON etc].
I think because of good quality milk etc there are some things that are pretty good here like sweets. But that's more analogous to a pastry shop/bakery than a resto. While good quality meat is readily avail here, I think often the cheaper indian places arent say using the best chicken etc. Although certainly Indian food often can do a lot with low quality ingredients ... in some ways something like a heavily flavored "jhol" or curry is the opposite of best ingredients/leave-it-alone sushi.
I had some really good Indian food at some no-name places in NYC ... not well-known places in Jackson Heights.
I am sanguine as the indian middle class grows and changes (e.g. dual income nuclear/yuppie families), the resto scene in india will improve. My understanding is that is well underway, although I havent been there for a few years.
In china, in the first few hours, in random restaurants, you immediately get better Chinese food than you ever see in the US. In 24 hours, with any research and nose-following, you will eat food and experience tastes you've never had.
In 3 days in bangalore, despite getting recommendations from friends, doing research, going with co workers to places they like, I didn't get ANY food better than the "good stuff" in the south bay.
Bangalore seems to be lagging behind other parts of India in creation of that middle class. The "downtown" area (around MG road and Battery) has almost no restaurants (maybe one a block), where areas to the south clearly had 2 or 3 restaurants per blocks. The incredible problems with traffic are likely a cause as well, where you can't realistically move more than 10 blocks from home or work without wasting a lot of time.
Regarding whether the south bay has "one note" food - I don't think you know what's going on in the south bay. The SB is so far advanced compared to SF and the EB that there's no comparison. I would agree with you regarding EB and SF - lots of the Typical Indian, lots of Butter Chicken. You don't know that both Junoon and Mantra has been closed for over a year, do you know what's in regular rotation on the specials menus at the chettinad places?
Take one example, my posting of the Desi Chinese place in San Carlos, but also the very nice menu at Mumbai Chowk, no butter chicken there.
My sister did trips to 5 different indian cities over the last 12 months, including bangalore, she agreed that bangalore is the worst of the major metropolises for infrastructure and food.
Comparing the SB to the lamest of the indian metropolises might thus seem like easy pickings, but if we can stand up to that, I think we're doing OK.
Are you comparing Bangalore to Chinese food in China or Indian in the south bay? Bangalore will lose in the former comparison, but it's totally irrelevant to the second. Anyhow:
Your account of food in Bangalore is risible. It's hard for me to comprehend how you can make such broad statements about a city of 9 million in which you spent three days, or to conceive how you think it's plausible that a city with a population greater than the entire bay area could possibly have fewer good Indian restaurants. You went to the wrong part of town to eat (though there are a couple decent restaurants on Church Street, which is near MG Road); in particular, I don't know what you mean by "downtown". It's a big city, and if you were going to name a single most central/busiest neighborhood, it would indisputably be Majestic, followed by Sivaji Nagar. There's not even a place in Bangalore called "Battery". Every reasonably-sized locality in India has an MG Road; are you sure you were actually in Bangalore? It's ok by me if you come to BLR and don't bother to figure out the lay of the land or investigate eating options with people who might give you good answers; but if you don't do so and then pronounce it the "lamest of the indian metropolises", that's pretty sad. The traffic congestion is there and it sucks, but has very little to do with your statements about restaurants.
El Camino, and the south bay more generally, has a few "south Indian places", which are almost all generic places with idli and dosas. In Bangalore, you can find a place like that--called a darshini--on every block. It's the equivalent of a burger joint, or a vada pav place in Bombay. Fine, usually not very exciting, and not at all distinctive.
What you managed to miss entirely in Bangalore is all the regional cuisines from the south. (Including the dishes that are special to Bangalore and environs.) Bangalore has by far the best food of any South Indian city, because it's located centrally and has historical populations and large numbers of migrants from the neighboring regions. Offhand, I can think of twenty genres of south Indian food that are present in significant numbers in Bangalore--mainly different regions and communities in Karnataka and Kerala, and a few from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. None of these are represented in the Bay Area besides Tamil Brahmin food, Chettinad food (at an awful branch of Anjappar in Milpitas. You imply that more Chettinad has opened since I left the bay area, which is great news.), and Keralan food (at the Spice Huts, which are fine but have a very limited menu. The bay area doesn't even really have very much South Asian Muslim food beyond the ubiquitous Pakistani Punjabi places. (And those, generic south Indian places, and chaat are really the only good, widespread kinds of Indian food available in the Bay Area. There are something like 10 places that aren't one of them, perhaps not that many.) Not far from where I live there's a two-block stretch with seven Keralan restaurants; I've been to four, and they all serve (quite different) food from different regions or communities. That's more than the south Indian restaurants in all the south bay.
The north Indian food in Bangalore isn't as good as the north indian food in north india, which isn't shocking. But there are excellent Gujarati, Bihari, and Bengali restaurants, for instance, none of which exist in the Bay Area, and the diversity and general standard is way better than the bay area. (I'm a year out of date, but the Gujarati place changed hands and the only Bengali places to open didn't last long. I'll buy you a litti choka myself when the first Bihari restaurant opens in the south bay.)
So anyhow, if someday in the bay area you can get even one of raagi roti, a davanagere benne masala dosa, phaal, Bhatkally fish fry, Malabar biriyani, or even a respectable Hyderabadi biriyani, only then consider even raising the question.
The ramzaan spread to which PSB refers consists of one block which has perhaps twice as many Indian dishes as all the restaurants in California combined, and they were indeed amazing. I've been going 2-3 times/week.
Sorry to call in the airstrike , but "everyone" agreed SB > BLR was in Farris's word "risible" ... but not only that, it was "a priori" risible ... you dont even need to go to BLR to know there is no way this can be true barring some dramatic explanation ["why is there so much great chinese art/food in TPE?"].
But of course people are more persuaded by "practical experience" than "pure reason".
SFBA vs NYC indian ... maybe requires research and experience and maybe opinions can differ. ECR > BLR = "the earth is flat".
farris> the only Bengali places to open didn't last long
yes, but I am told that place surpassed all the cooking in the Bengal Presidency.
p.s. Mr. Ulkow, I would greatly enjoy hearing what Indians in your orbit say when you tell them the Silicon Valley Indian Resto scene surpasses BLR's. If you feel this would be obnoxious to inquire, as you might be insulting them, I understand. Ok tnx.
I understood bbukow's Chinese/Bangalore analogy perfectly. He was talking about the overall quality vis a vis the restaurants here. Obviously there are good restaurants somewhere in Bangalore, but in bb's experience, the typical place is not very good, and not as good as the places here. By comparison, the typical place he walked into in China was better then even the good places here. It has to do with the overall food culture and quality, not whether there are X number of good restaurants. It's the same reason that San Francisco is considered a great food city: it's not that the highs are higher, it's that the average is higher. Or as a friend from Virginia told me at dinner in what I would considered a neighborhood Cal-Cuisine place, "you can get food like this at home, but only in really fancy expensive places."
re: Ruth Lafler
India is a big place. Are you saying there is no bad food, or no cities where food the food culture is not as well-developed, in all of India?
There are a lot of factors that go into the quality of food, like access to good ingredients. To go back to my example above, the variety and quality of ingredients that we take for granted in the Bay Area is not typical of many parts of the country.
re: Ruth Lafler
For veg food:
Most parts of South Asia and Southeast Asia do not have a vegetable produce issue because they have only mild seasons (like CA). There are fruits and a few rare vegetables that are only available seasonally - but in those cases they are rare - so they wouldn't be readily available in CA anyway.
The very poor in these areas can't afford access - but none of us are in that group.
So, really the best an Indian restaurant in the U.S. can do is equal places in India. I would disagree with osho that NO place in the US equals a good/solid place in India (see Tastebuds etc.) I think you can find acceptable substitutes for "mainstream/generic" South Indian vegetarian.
It's not like going to Italy in February and realizing most of the restaurants are using canned ingredients - where we can use fresh and more varied here in Ca.
One thing I do appreciate about the good Indian restaurants in the South Bay is that the quality of meat tends to be better than in India.
Tastebuds is hardly a poster child for good Indian food. It's all about standards, isn't it?
And I have to vehemently disagree with the quality of meat comment.
A lot of places in Asia - not just India - don't even have or need refrigeration for meat. Why? Because it's consumed within hours and sometimes minutes of slaughter.
Been to Al Jawahar in Old Delhi? Karims ?
Fraser town in Bangalore?
They don't need or have a supply chain like we do here.
One simply cannot compare chicken in India with the best we have here. One of my friends spent a year in India traveling and she can't eat the chicken here any more - seriously.
Have you tried the fish there? Bekti, pomfret and the mackerel are simply superb.
I just have to say that reasonable people will disagree about Taste Buds and about the meat/fish question. It's simply not true that there can be only one true opinion e.g. there is no good Indian food in the U.S. or that the meat/fish quality in a random restaurant in India is always better than the BEST meat served here (really? this just has not been my experience)
It's as "risible" as stating that the food here is better than the food in Bangalore after visiting for a few days as a tourist.
I just can't see how this is so factually obvious that there can be a "wrong" or "right" answer to this.
I am fascinated by the Taste Buds comment. Have you tried Taste Buds Fish Pulusu made spicy? It's one of the best fish curries I've ever had and that's coming from someone with a lot of experience (yes in India and in Malaysia and in Singapore etc. etc.) with fish curry. Is there a whole world of fish curry available in the Bay Area that I do not know about? Where should I be going?
What have you had at Taste Buds that you didn't like, and when? They went through a rough patch when they expanded but are now back on track. Not everything is great - I don't get the biryani there - but most is very good and some, like the gongura dishes, I find to be amazingly delicious.
I think it's most useful to focus on the great dishes at the restaurants we have here in the South Bay, rather than belaboring that the whole of India (rather obviously) has more diversity in its cuisine that is represented by Indian restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
re: Ruth Lafler
I love the Bay Area and our quality of ingredients and I agree when I visit places like Pennsylvania or Ohio, I really appreciate where we live and eat.
The food is spectacular in Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore. It's a bit much to explain here. We can start a thread elsewhere. It's a 5000 year old country with more diversity that I can ever express.
Every state has pretty much it's own culture and cuisine. Where the metros like Delhi or Bangalore shine is that they get migrants from neighboring states and so the food culture is varied and you can sample a ton of cuisines as outlined by Farris above. There are so many variations based on culture, region, caste, etc that it is mind-boggling.
bbulkow, I am late to this party, but the food in Bangalore is nothing short of spectacular..as it is in most parts of India, and the food here, even in the South Bay, does not even come close..
I would love to know where you ate. Bangalore has better food than most other Indian metros, since you will find phenomenal South Indian food as well, while up North and even in Bombay, the South Indian variety is lacking.
Your friends don't know anything about food. And next time, let me know, I'll go with you.. :-)
I'm just salivating thinking about the Thalis at Eden Park, Nagarju, Pai's or Ruchi in Cambridge Layout. Not to mention dosa at Vidyarthi Bhawan, MTR, Biryani at Govind Rao's Military Hotel, Richies, Imperial, Chinese at Chung Wah..
I'm completely ignoring all the amazing places in Malleshwaram, Basavanagudi, Jayanagar, Koramangala, etc... All the Darshini food. The amazing bakeries...
Even Khansamam in UB city has some amazing food..
Damn! I need to make a trip stat!! (Was there 4 months ago!)
Madras Cafe is one of my favorites. Madura in Sunnyvale (at Hollenbeck and Homestead) is another great South Indian vegetarian choice. I like the plain dosas better at Madras but the rava dosas better at Madura. The thali and rice dishes are also really good at Madura.
For something in Shalimar Pakistani style I prefer Shah, just a few blocks down El Camino. I particularly like the achar chicken, the tandoor dishes, and the goat karahi.
I heartily second Taste Buds! Another place where most everything is solid, but the summertime gongura specials (off menu, as they're not available year-round) are particularly awesome.
Melanie reports that Peacock has closed, alas. For more upscale places I like both Artisan / The Menu and Amber India in Mountain View. Amber India shouldn't be confused with Amber Cafe, a whole different concept from the same folks. I'm not an Amber Cafe fan either but it's been a while since I've tried it. Artisan emphasizes ingredient quality and has the best wine and beer selection of Indian restaurants in the area. They also have some interesting dishes like a quinoa biryani.
This is all for a la carte; I'm not a buffet fan at all.
you sure Peacock closed? I went by there just two weeks ago (the one in Sunnyvale on El Camino). A shame if so.
I actually meant Amber India. I've never been to any of the Amber Cafes, only the nicer restaurant in Mountain View. I'll have to give the quinoa biryani. Sounds interesting!
Tastebuds (not the buffet but off the menu): especially like their specialty rices (curd rice, lemon rice, tamarind rice etc.) and their fish pulusu curry. They can get a little overwhelmed so service can be a little spotty but no more than many neighborhood restaurants.
Lovely Sweets and Chaat Paradise has decent chaat.