The 10 Best Indian Restaurants in LA, According to an Indian Chef
Let’s be honest: it’s hard to come up with a huge list of great Indian joints in LA, either because we don't have the density of Indian restaurants that, say, NYC does, or because... we don't have the density of Indian restaurants that, say, NYC does.
A list of just 10 great Indian joints in LA, though? See, that’s totally doable.
What you’re getting: Chicken Tikka Poutine
This is Indian food with a hip-hop-ya-don’t-stop attitude -- take the poutine, drenched in beef gravy, something you wouldn’t traditionally do in most Indian households because the cow is considered sacred in Hindu culture, but something you’re damn sure glad Badmaash does because IT’S DELICIOUS. The menu pays homage to traditional favorites (the butter chicken is spectacular, and comes with a fresh pat of butter melting into the tomato-gravy abyss), but also features fresh improvisations on those greats, like a lamb burger and a mango chutney-smothered pork belly. Also worth the stomach space: the 2-Bite Fish Fry and the dahi puri.
What you’re getting: Dahi Sev Puri
If you’re in India and you’re going to meet up with some friends for a quick bite, you visit one of the many “chaat” houses in town. If you’re in Artesia, you come here, where a steaming up of masala chai (sweetened or unsweetened... so, unsweetened) or Indian-style filter coffee accompanies a cornucopia of “chaat” or snacks.
The chaat include everything from potato croquettes in a split-pea curry (Ragda Pattis) to the Dahi Sev Puri, which stuffs tiny deep-fried wheat pillows with green mung beans, potato, and black chickpeas, drizzles them all with sweet mint and tamarind chutneys, then tops the whole thing off with a dollop of cool, creamy yogurt and a pinch of deep-fried chickpea strings. The combo of cool, hot, creamy, and crunchy is addictive/kinda the best thing ever.
What you're getting: Jackfruit curry and dhokla
There are a few of these around town (one in Culver City and another in Silver Lake), but the best one is the old faithful on Washington Blvd and Berryman, because after your belly is full of smoky, spiced jackfruit curry and dhokla (a North Indian tea snack made of steamed chickpea flour finished with sizzled mustard seeds, green chiles and coconut), you can stroll through the aisles of the market and pick up jars of pickles and boxes of tea straight from India (pro tip: get some Taj Mahal).
What you're getting: Paper Masala Dosa
In the south of India, lush green rice paddies blanket a landscape lined with coconut trees and usually a few lazy water buffalo. If you want to be transported there, just take a bite of Annapurna’s dosa, a thin fermented rice and lentil crepe cooked on a griddle until crispy on one side and spongy on the other, then stuffed with a spiced potato concoction and (if you’re smart) smothered in a tamarind-tinted vegetable gravy and cool, fresh coconut chutney. It’s traditionally eaten for breakfast in India, but it you want to come here at all hours, we won’t tell.
What you’re getting: Anything on the specials menu
This is the non-veg sister restaurant to Annapurna, so stick to South Indian specialties like the appam (a fermented rice and coconut milk pancake with a thick, soft center) and chicken or fish curry. Mayura makes a nice vegetable side, too, which’s important considering a meal in India wouldn’t be complete without a starch, some vegetables, and, if you eat it, some meat.
West Los Angeles
What you’re getting: Pani puri
This stalwart of the West Side has been serving a modernized version of Indian food for years. Its thalis -- big, round platters with small bowls of tandoori chicken, salad, lentils, raita with rice and naan -- are pretty respectable, but the go-to is yet another chaat item: pani puri, so named because the deep-fried hollow pillows (the puris) are stuffed and then served with a small bowl of tamarind-tinted water (pani), which you pour into the puris and then quickly pop into your mouth in one bite. Yessir.
What you’re getting: Gujurati Thali
Come here with an empty belly and a pair of stretchy pants on because this, my friends, is LA’s best version of an Indian all-you-can-eat. You’re furnished with a thali, a big stainless steel platter, populated with a few small vatis (bowls). Then servers come around at regular intervals with big vessels of various bhajis (vegetables) and dal (lentils), which they’ll spoon into those small bowls. Another server brings you ghee-glistening roti (whole wheat flat bread) and puri (large deep-fried wheat rounds) straight off the stove so you can pick up said vegetables and dal.
There’s also kuchumber (a fresh cucumber and tomato relish) to lighten up your plate, lightly pickled onions and green chiles, and khandvi -- adorable little yellow cylinders made of chickpea flour and buttermilk. The dessert is probably a little (lot?) too sweet, and you’ll feel swollen and full for the rest of the day because the food is cooked with a hefty ladle of oil, but if all-you-can-eat vegetarian food is what you’re after, along with the softest roti you’ve ever encountered, then Rajdhani is your spot.
What you’re getting: Lunch buffet
The Indian lunch buffet is a bit of a stereotype here in the States: $7.99 for all the goopy, creamy curries you can sop up with the never-ending stream of doughy naan. But honestly, you never feel great after those do you? Chakra is different. You’ll find all the standards: chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, pulao... but the gravies are not sodden with cream, and each one has a distinct flavor (the lamb curry is a must). It’s a bit pricier ($15), but you won’t be paying for it later, if you know what I mean. Which you do. Nice ambience, too.
What you’re getting: Garlic naan
This is technically Pakistani food, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it. Go for the garlic naan -- the rounds of wheat dough have just the right amount of smoky char on the bottom to underscore whatever decadent curry you happen to dunk them into. Also, take the opportunity to sample some traditional Pakistani Muslim fare like the chicken haleem and seekh kebab.
What you’re getting: Chana bhatura
A little off the main drag in Artesia, but one of the few places that makes this North Indian classic. Bhatura is basically a massive puri -- and I’m not kidding when I say massive. It’s about the size of YOUR FACE. It comes with a bowl of gently spiced chickpeas in tomato gravy that makes a satisfying vegetarian lunch. Wash it down with India’s answer to the milkshake, falooda -- the bright pink drink is flavored with rose syrup and punctuated with soaked basil seeds, which pop between your teeth in the most addictive way.
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Aarti Sequeira has a cooking channel on OwnZones, is the season six winner of the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star, an award-winning Indian chef, and author of Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul. Follow her on Twitter at @aartipaarti.