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).
At Tava Grill and Lounge, owner and chef Punita Patel infuses her seasonal menu with Indian flavors and fresh, local ingredients. The paneer fajita tacos, for instance, ooze authenticity along with housemade cilantro mint chutney that can double as smelling salts for a food-comatose date. The seafood biryani paella evokes both India and Spain with a blend of shrimp, mussels, squid, and crab in a creamy curry sauce.
A separate menu in the lounge marries the food of India and California, as the atmosphere fuses nightclub and fine-dining establishment. Beside a softly lit bar, benches and ottomans are scattered around low tables, which break up regular tables and booths without the staff having to dig trenches around each.
Using traditional ingredients, Mughal Halal Tandoori has created an extensive menu of authentic Indian entrees bursting with a variety of flavors. Send taste buds down a culinary river with a range of Indian breads, including garlic naan (stuffed with freshly diced garlic, $1.50) and aloo kulcha (paratha filled with mildly spiced mashed potatoes and peas, $2.50), before docking at curry port, which is occupied by the likes of murgh makhni (butter chicken curry, $7.95) and tala ghost (lamb curry, $8.95). In addition to specialty dishes cooked in the tandoori, Mughal Halal Tandoori serves up a variety of vegetarian options, such as the bhindi masala (mildly seasoned okra, onion, ginger, and garlic, $6.95) and the bagara baigan (Indian eggplant cooked Hydrabadi style, $6.95). Cleanse a spice-soaked palate with the mango lassi, a traditional Indian drink churned with yogurt and milk and flavored with mango ($2).
The culinary guides at Pickles Indian Cuisine wield a menu that catalogs a wealth of traditional tandoori dishes and vegetarian-friendly fare. Hone flavor-sensing devices on appetizers such as avocado papadi chat, which unites crest wafers and sweet potatoes with garbanzo beans plus tamarind and mint chutneys ($6.99). Meanwhile, the lamb vindaloo binds together a mélange of coconut, vinegar, and hot chili peppers with potatoes ($12.99) to obliterate hunger like a bulldozer clearing a forest of Styrofoam. Or pair a palak paneer—which incorporates creamed spinach with garlic, cumin, and paneer ($10.99)—with a mango, sweet, or salt lassi beverage ($4).
Authentic Nepalese cuisine can be found at Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine, a cozy, hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Venice Boulevard in Palms. Tara’s stands out with its thatched “hut” roof over its porch, and though the space inside can feel a bit cramped, the large outdoor patio is heated and comfortable. Tara uses fresh ingredients and light seasonings to create Indian-influenced dishes, mostly with a vegetarian lean. There’s the garlic tofu and vegetable momo, tiny steamed or pan-fried dumplings filled with mushrooms and served with a sweet tomato coulis known as achaar. Menu items are reasonably priced, especially at lunchtime, when you can order a thali, a combination plate with an entrée, mustard greens, basmati, daal, raita and naan. Other staples like chicken masala or vindaloo are found on the menu, along with more unusual items like the Sherpa Stew, vegetables simmered in a hearty broth with spices, and served with noodles.
Baba Ji, the proprietor of Silverlake Juice and Tea, explores a new frontier in fusion with the food at Cowboys and Turbans—the tantalizing blend of South Asian, American, and Mexican cuisine. The menu unites antipodal parts of the globe with hearty samosas wrapped in flour tortillas instead of samosa dough, tacos filled with tandoori meats and chutneys, and pizzas made with a chewy tandoori naan crust. Towering doors of wood and iron lined with intricately carved columns reveal an open-air patio, which surrounds visitors with flickering torchlight and a canopy of multicolored cloth. Statues of animals and deities ring the courtyard, patiently waiting to ask if diners are going to finish their masala burgers, tandoori cornish hens, and aromatic vegetarian and seafood curries.