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.
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.
Above all else, the menu at Mezbaan Bar & Indian Cuisine strives to highlight the distinctive and varied flavors of South Asian cuisine. When diners step inside, they’re first greeted by aromas of ginger, saffron, fenugreek, and spicy curry sauce—a fitting preview of what’s to come at the dinner table. These distinctive flavors and spices appear throughout the restaurant’s regionally inspired Indian cuisine, including marinated skewers of chicken, lamb, and seafood that roast inside a traditional tandoor clay oven. But that doesn’t mean the chefs only stick to the standards. In addition to favorites such as saag paneer, they also forge a number of Indo-Chinese entrees and vegetarian dishes that embrace the same bold flavors as the rest of the menu. Draped with sky-blue and cloud-white linens, the tables at Mezbaan spread across two levels of seating. An elegant crystal chandelier helps light the spacious, high-ceilinged lower section and the second floor offers a bit more privacy for events or for licking plates clean without judgment.
The bright colors and exotic smells of north-Indian fare have swirled through the dining room at Ganesha Indian Cuisine for more than a decade—though the free WiFi waves they mingle with are a relatively recent addition. Classic comforts and attentive service are hallmarks at Ganesha, where servers cart out biryani dishes of slow-cooked basmati rice simmered with saffron and parsley. Creamy curries bathe chicken, lamb, and vegetables in flavorful sauces, such as the spicy vindaloo or the mild tomato base of tikka masala. Like an actor who has agreed to do the director’s laundry for a year, a mesquite charcoal clay-tandoor oven nabs a staring role on the menu, churning out marinated meats and seafood and popping delicate nooks into 10 varieties of naan to soak up overflowing sauces. Yogurt-smoothie drinks, masala tea, and Indian beer wash down exotic meals with similarly worldly flavors.