Best Indian food in the Bay Area (hint: look south)

You would think with all the engineers from the Subcontinent employed by Silicon Valley tech firms, the South Bay would have plenty of good Indian restaurants to choose from. You would be right. Drive down El Camino Real in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara and it starts to look like one big Indian restaurant bazaar. There’s so many, I heard they even opened one inside a Starbucks. (Badaboom) Okay maybe not, but it’s also no surprise to find some of the best curries and dosas and naan in the Bay Area down south.

Of course that doesn’t mean it’s the only place with good Indian food. Working my way from north to south, one of my favorite restaurants in Sausalito is Avatar’s, (with locations in Larkspur, Fairfax and Petaluma). And while it features its Indian ‘burrito’ and ‘enchilada’, which are basically Indian ingredients with a Mexican presentation, what I like most is just how fresh and light the food is while still maintaining its full flavor. The location in Sausalito is small and gets busy at times, but the owner/waiter is a kind, sincere soul who makes his customers feel special.

The city, being a city, has plenty of everything, including Indian at a variety of price levels. Dosa on Fillmore across from the Kabuki Theater is at the high end. Which means you’ll pay more than your average $10 buffet, but for inventive creations like white truffle masala dosa and duck vindaloo that you certainly won’t find elsewhere, except Dosa’s second location on Valencia in the Mission. The small plates are a nice option.

And while I enjoy fine dining, especially when someone else is buying, I’m more often found at Shalimar on the other end of the scale. With two city locations (Jones/O’Farrell and Polk/Pine) and a third in Fremont, this is classic hole-in-the-wall Indian food, and very popular with the local Indian and Pakistani crowd, which is always a good litmus test for any ethnic restaurant. There’s nothing light about the fare, which also features Pakistani favorites, but it’s very flavorful. It’s the best of the low end, and cheap.

Besides being a very good south Indian restaurant, Udupi Palace on Valencia in the Mission is also one of the best vegetarian options in the city (granted, it’s not a huge list). The menu features a wide selection of dosas (thin rice crepes), some delightfully large, which can make for a fun dining experience. Also featured are uthappam, a pancake type bread with ingredients baked in and a topping added for something of an Indian pizza. Udupi Palace also has a location in Berkeley, and its original restaurant is in Sunnyvale, along Indian restaurant row.

Just down the road from Udupi on El Camino is Bombay Garden, with one of the most expansive buffets of any Indian restaurant I’ve come across. And that’s really the best reason to come here, since a lot of care into it, and all the selections are well presented, fresh and properly warmed. They also has locations in San Mateo and Newark.

For the some of the richest, most flavorful masala and saag in the Bay Area, Kabab & Curry’s just off El Camino in Santa Clara stands above the competition. Like most Indian restaurants, it’s not fancy, but it’s no hole in the wall either, filled most nights with many of those aforementioned engineers and their families. The place is also popular at lunch and does a brisk take-out business. If there’s one complaint it would that the spiciness can be a little inconsistent from one day to the next, but that’s quibbling in the face of such tasty fare.

Another vegetarian option a few blocks off El Camino, Deedee’s Homestyle Restaurant & Chaat Corner is like stepping into your grandmother’s kitchen, if your grandmother was from the northwest part of India. Served buffet style, the selections rotate each weekend of the month from one region to another, between Gujarati, Maharashtrian, Rajastani and Kathiawadi. Regardless of the day, the food is hardy (just like grandma’s) but never oily, and is balanced according to ayurvedic principles.

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