Chef Bhupender Singh embraces centuries of Indian culinary traditions when penning recipes for Ambrosia India Bistro’s menu, filling the pages with dishes from the northern and southern extremes of the subcontinent. Although his cooks can adjust the heat by tailoring the number of fiery chili peppers they add and plate-sized sweaters they knit, Chef Singh ensures that ginger, turmeric, and cilantro still lend their distinctive flavors to the entrees. Lamb kebabs roast inside a clay tandoor oven and chicken simmers in aromatic curry sauces, but the chefs also commit to preparing a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, including slow-cooked yellow lentils and sautéed cottage cheese with onions and bell peppers.
Owner and chef Ayoma Wilen took the reins at Pearl of the Ocean in 2010, and that year, the restaurant was named Best New Restaurant by both the Santa Cruz Weekly and Santa Cruz Good Times. Focusing on fresh, organic ingredients, Ayoma oversees the vegetarian-focused menus that outline delectable arrangements of locally sourced ingredients, including some culled from the area’s farmers markets, and Sri Lankan spices. These arrangements are manifested in dishes as colorful and complex as a 20-sided Rubik’s Cube. Pearl of the Ocean’s staff also pours a variety of libations and non-alcoholic beverages, such as the spicy chai tea, and their signature drink, Kiss of the Island Princess, is composed of Montresor Prosecco, hibiscus flower, and love potion.
The aromas of South Asian spices lure passersby into Royal Taj Fine Indian Cuisine, where heat emanates from the kitchen's clay tandoor oven and plates laden with marinated lamb and chicken. Four varieties of pakora—fish, chicken, vegetable, and paneer—don coats of spice and marinade before hopping into the deep fryer and emerging with a crispy veneer. Traditional Indian entrees include lamb tikka masala and tandoori shrimp, and a daily lunch buffet appeases tigers growling in bellies with more than 15 dishes to choose from. The restaurant's catering services accommodate a multitude of occasions, from small get-togethers to massive Bollywood dance rehearsals.
Every day, the aroma of smoky spices wafts from the imported, wood-fired tandoor ovens at Tandoori Oven’s locations. To a soundtrack of upbeat techno, reggae, and bhangra music imported from UK clubs, servers deliver plates of lamb biryani loaded with basmati rice, bell peppers, cashews, and secret spices alongside mango lassis blended with housemade yogurt. The healthful signature wrap is stuffed with chicken or lamb that’s been marinated for 24 hours in yogurt and spices and then baked in the tandoor oven and wrapped in soft naan with mint chutney and tamarind. Local athletes dine at Tandoori Oven, a sponsor of the TRIbe Triathlon Club, after workouts for meals made to order with lean meats and served in participation trophies.
Wood- or charcoal-heated tandoors imbue traditional Indian dishes with smoky, yet succulent, flavor by roasting skewered meats and vegetables at temperatures as high as 750 degrees. At Emperor of India, the menu features a variety of tandoori entrees, including vegetable kebabs as well as yogurt-, herb-, and spice-marinated chicken.
The sound of water burbling in a fountain greets patrons as they enter North India Bar & Grill. Further in, ornate chandeliers dangle from the ceiling, illuminating rows of plush, copper-colored banquettes. On select nights, part of this dining room transforms into a nightclub, where your can down an extra-spicy indian mary or spin around and around in circles before anybody notices you literally have two left feet.
As visitors let loose a few yards away, chefs buzz about the kitchen, pouring honey-cashew cream sauce over tender morsels of lamb and marinating chicken in authentic spices before roasting it in a 900-degree oven. They also concoct a selection of Indian-American fusion recipes including a flatbread wrap loaded with cream cheese and lamb and a tandoori-chicken pizza.