Thanks to a recent explosion in high-quality Indian cuisine, San Francisco now has more fantastic South Asian fare than we know what to do with—whether you’re hunting for home-style recipes, street food specialties, or inventive twists on the classics. Different regions (from Pakistan to South India) and differently trained chefs (from traditional home cooks to culinary school graduates) make for a diverse selection of deftly-spiced, slow-simmered deliciousness spanning from Berkeley to the Mission. Here’s where to find the best bone-warming curries, fresh-baked naan, and authentic tandoori dishes in San Francisco and the East Bay.
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Indian restaurants in San Francisco
The name celebrates the date of India’s freedom from colonial British rule; the food celebrates a cuisine with nuances so varied that the full gamut is rarely seen in the West. At brunch, lunch and dinner, small plates like dahi puri with a wheat shell, tamarind and a mint-yogurt mousse and mains like trout with parsnip, saffron, roe and lime will tantalize your taste buds.
The vibe at Udupi is cheerful and low-key; colorful string lights and a smattering of Indian instruments 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 sambar and coconut, tomato and ginger chutneys. 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.
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 a curry broth, duck breast with rhubarb and basil, and slow-cooked lamb served over basmati rice, snap peas and cumin-lime yogurt (the lamb and game bird dishes are cooked in an authentic tandoori oven). The overall experience is decidedly luxurious, from the extensive wine list to the glittering chandeliers overhead.
Alice Waters calls Ajanta one of her favorite places to eat, and with good reason: the menu of this Berkeley Hills restaurant features sustainable seafood, organic vegetables, free-range meats and changes seasonally. Ajanta specializes in North Indian cuisine and their tandoori—whether made with scallops, portobello mushrooms or chicken—is perfectly spiced.
For over a decade this funky spot has been helmed by North Indian chef Mohammed Aslam. Aslam 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.
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 artesanal spirits.
White truffle masala dosas and shikampuri kebab sliders may not be “traditional” Indian fare, but that doesn’t exactly 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 menu also features a dozen dosas, half as many uttapam and a range of a la carte specials that might include a Bengali fish curry or a Hyderabadi chicken biryani.
Mela is situated on a rather dreary strip near Civic Center, but inside it is warm and vibrant, lit by candles and swathed in multicolored stripes and Indian movie posters. On the menu are 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). 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.
True to its name, this West Berkeley Indian joint spotlights South Indian street food. For more than 25 years, they’ve been serving up chaat (snacks) 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 served Indian homestyle with basmati rice, chapati, dal and more.
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. Both the heat and the portion sizes are generous. Fortunately, it’s BYOB, so you can douse your tingling tongue with a beer or three.
At this stylish little wine bar you'll enjoy street food “chaat” like kanda batata poha (flattened rice sauteed with onion and potatoes and topped with roasted peanuts) and lamb shish kebab with a cool glass of Macedonian rose or Italian white.
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).