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Photograph: Courtesy Dosa

The 10 best Indian restaurants in San Francisco

If you’re craving South Asian fare in the Bay Area, these are the best Indian restaurants in San Francisco right now

Written by
Clara Hogan
Contributor
Virginia Miller
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When it comes to variety, the best Indian restaurants in San Francisco are upping the ante. A batch of high-end joints recently emerged to shine a spotlight on the already great scene, while mom-and-pops serve pure nostalgia on the regular. Whether you’re hunting for home-style recipes, street food specialties, or inventive twists on the classics, there’s a bounty of fantastic South Asian fare in SF.

Different countries and regions (from Pakistan to South India) and various backgrounds of trained chefs (from traditional home cooks to culinary school graduates) make for a diverse selection of deftly-spiced, slow-simmered deliciousness. The best Indian restaurants in the Bay Area span San Francisco from the Mission District to Civic Center, as well as over in the East Bay. You’ll find a range of experiences and price points — if you’re looking for high-end, don’t miss Michelin-starred Taj Campton Place, and if you're looking for something more relaxed, you’ll find fast-casual eateries like Vik’s Chaat.

Take a look at these Indian restaurants in San Francisco to find the best bone-warming curries, fresh-baked naan, and authentic tandoori dishes.

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Best Indian restaurants in San Francisco, ranked

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Mission
  • price 1 of 4

The vibe at Udupi is cheerful and low-key with colorful string lights and a smattering of Indian instruments that deck the walls. The South Indian cuisine is strictly vegetarian and the dosas are as big as they come, made with rice flour, stuffed with fillings, and served alongside dope chutneys (like sambar and coconut, or tomato and ginger). The uttapam, a thicker lentil and rice pancake topped with vegetables and chutney, is equally satisfying. First-timers can opt for the South Indian thali, a sampler platter that includes rice, various curries, soup, and dessert.

  • Restaurants
  • Union Square
  • price 4 of 4

Chef Srijith Gopinathan's exotic, high-end Cal-Indian cuisine has earned Campton Place multiple Michelin stars since 2011. On the Spice Route prix fixe menu ($155), you’ll find dishes like Maine lobster in curry broth, duck breast with rhubarb and basil, and slow-cooked lamb that’s cooked in an authentic tandoori oven and served over basmati rice, snap peas, and cumin-lime yogurt. The overall experience is decidedly luxurious, from the extensive wine list to the glittering chandeliers overhead.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • price 2 of 4

Alice Waters calls Ajanta one of her favorite places to eat, and with good reason: the menu at this Berkeley Hills restaurant changes seasonally and features sustainable seafood, organic vegetables, and free-range meats. Ajanta specializes in North Indian cuisine and their tandoori—whether made with scallops, portobello mushrooms, or chicken—is perfectly spiced.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Mission
  • price 2 of 4

For over a decade, this funky spot has been helmed by North Indian chef Mohammed Aslam, who specializes in tandoori dishes cooked in a traditional clay oven. Start with the pakoras, chickpea fritters stuffed with seafood, vegetables or chicken, and fresh-baked naan infused with ingredients like goat cheese, fruit, nuts, basil, and peppers. Regulars swear by the curried lamb chops, which are slow-cooked with ginger, onions, saffron, and garlic. Complete your meal with a mug of cardamom-cinnamon-fennel-spiced homemade chai.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • South Beach
  • price 3 of 4

The first stateside offering from India’s Good Times Group, ROOH is a bright, polished addition to the SoMa scene. In the evenings, diners are treated to a nightly chef’s tasting menu but during lunch, dishes come a la carte with small plates like tandoori monkfish and larger portions of curries, vegetable berry pulao, and butter chicken. Their cocktail menu is inspired by the six Ayurvedic rasas and is chock-full of Indian spices, homemade shrubs, and artisanal spirits.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Japantown
  • price 3 of 4

White truffle masala dosas and shikampuri kebab sliders may not be “traditional” Indian fare, but that doesn’t deter the Dosa fanatics who line up to eat here (and at the original location at 995 Valencia St) every weekend. Chef Dinesh Kumar is best known for his seasonal, four-course tasting ($60), but the regular menu also features a dozen dosas, half as many uttapam, and a range of a la carte specials that might just include a Bengali fish curry or a Hyderabadi chicken biryani.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Tenderloin
  • price 2 of 4

Mela is situated on a rather dreary strip near Civic Center, but don’t judge its cover: you’ll find a warm, vibrant space inside lit by candles and swathed in multicolored stripes and Indian movie posters. Page through the menu and you’ll also find a huge variety of meaty and vegetarian curries, rice dishes, kebabs, and over a dozen styles of naan (try the spicy flecked with minced jalapeño) will. Don’t miss the faluda for dessert, an Indian-style milkshake made with rose syrup, coconut jelly, sweet basil seeds, cream, and Mitchell’s mango ice cream.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Berkeley
  • price 1 of 4

True to its name, this West Berkeley Indian joint spotlights South Indian street food. For more than 25 years the restaurant has served up chaat like dahi pakori (lentil dumplings dipped in yogurt and tamarind) and uttapam (savory pancakes topped with tomato and onion) straight from owner Amod Chopra’s childhood memories. On weekdays, Vik’s offers an ever-changing daily lunch menu that serves homestyle Indian with basmati rice, chapati, dal, and more.

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  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Tenderloin
  • price 1 of 4

This no-frills mini-chain is cheap, quick and authentic. Order at the counter then chow down on classics like tandoori chicken, lamb biryani, and saag paneer. For something this affordable, both the heat and the portion sizes are surprisingly generous. Fortunately it’s also BYOB, so you can douse your tingling tongue with a beer (or three).

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • The Castro
  • price 2 of 4

Tara is serene and inviting with white tablecloths, fresh flowers, and attentive service. All meals start with complimentary pappadam, served alongside a spate of chutneys and dipping sauces. Their special thali favor the indecisive, and include pappadam, samosas, saag paneer, rice, naan, raita, and kheer along with one to two additional main dishes ($34.95 for two vegetarians, $42.95 for two meat eaters).

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