Named one of the top 10 South Bay ethnic restaurants by the Daily Breeze, Al Watan has served up authentic Indian and Pakistani fare for more than 25 years. Much of the menu is cooked in a traditional clay oven, bringing intense heat to meaty specialties such as the tandoori chicken, expertly spiced to the rich orange hue of a dying sun ($6.99). Lamb, goat, and beef are also offered, cooked in a variety of regional spices and sauces. The naan, also cooked in the clay oven, includes plain ($1), garlic ($1.99), and butter ($2.25) varieties to mop up the savory leavings of the entrees. An extensive vegetable selection ensures that noncarnivores will find something to put in their bellies. Tongues stung by spice can seek succor in the cool sanctuary of the lassis or mango shakes ($2 each).
The founders of Annapurna Southbay chose to name their restaurant after a Sanskrit title for the goddess of the harvest, and it's easy to see why they chose that name for the Annapurna special dosa. Measuring four feet in length and spanning almost an entire table, this is just one example of the chefs' dedication to hearty, bountiful meals. Most of the menu focuses on cuisine from India's four southern states— Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Karnataka—uniting the coconut, tamarind, and dried red chilies that characterize so many of the region's dishes. These ingredients add their distinctive flavor and spice to orders of tandoor-roasted chicken, fiery lamb curry, and slow-cooked lentils.
Echoing the restaurant's pastoral inspiration, the dining room boasts a verdant, leaf-like wall pattern above the line of burgundy-hued booths. Blooming flowers adorn the buffet area, and stone tiles from the backyard quarry line a wall near the storefront windows.
Manjit Singh, known to his contemporaries as a tandoori guru, has captained the kitchen at Tandoor A India for 20 years. In that time, he's developed a bountiful menu of Indian cuisine that hinges on aromatic curries and meats marinated overnight before facing the blazing fires of a tandoor oven. Vegetarian options include saag paneer packed with housemade cheese and enough spinach to sate a starving Popeye or the vegetable korma with cashew nuts and a creamy curry sauce. As diners sop up reservoirs of curry with buttery loaves of paratha, they toast the multiple uses of yogurt with frosty, creamy glasses of mango lassi.
The chefs at Zagat-rated Ocean Tava craft definitive Indian dishes from a subcontinentally rich palette of flavors, serving zesty curries and tender kebabs in a swanky setting. To engage fried-pastry receptors, diners can start with potato-and-green-pea-stuffed vegetable samosas ($4.95) and wash away any straggling morsels with freshly brewed masala tea ($3.95). The menu highlights India's famed meatless cuisine, with vegetarian entrees such as bengan bharta, a baked-eggplant dish ($9.95), and saag paneer, spinach smothered with cubes of house-made cheese flavored with fenugreek ($9.95). Ravenous carnivores can sink their pearly whites into the tandoori mixed platter, an assortment of tandoori chicken, seekh kebab, chicken tikka, and salmon, fired in a traditional clay inferno ($18.95).
Butter-hued walls seem to melt in the glow of wall sconces and constellation-style lights. The intricate folds of red curtains evoke the whorled petals of roses beside potted ferns and flowers. Less than a mile from Venice Beach, aromas drift from homemade naan bread, tandoori shrimp, and chicken marinated in fresh ginger, mint, and yogurt. Beside raisin-strewn biryani rice dishes, lamb and beef curries impart hints of coconut and garlic in the diner's choice of mild, medium, or hot. After sampling all of Agra's chutneys, guests can dunk spoons into pistachio ice cream, which provides a pleasant end to meals, unlike the eject button on a bib.