Los Angeles’ famed taco trucks and Korean barbecue-mobiles fueled an insatiable desire for gourmet, street-food restaurants. The city’s latest arrivals—Sambar in Culver City and Badmaash in downtown L.A.—serve intriguing takes on popular Indian fare that have curried favor among fans, who normally have to drive all the way to Pioneer Blvd. in the suburb of Artesia (a.k.a Little India) for spicy sustenance.
Helmed by chef Akasha Richmond, who put Culver City on the map with her modern American food at Akasha, Sambar (pictured) seduces the senses with contemporary design that nods to Philippe Starck, DJ music and the smell of wood-fire ovens. At the illuminated stone bar, drinks such as Last Train to Goa (a bourbon punch with pomegranate and tart cherry) and an herbal-infused East Indian Pimm’s Cup are paired with an signature snack of mixed nuts, seeds raisins and curry leaves. “It’s the Indian version of trail mix,” the server says, when you ask for a second serving.
The menu offers other street snacks, such as sevpuri chaat with green mango, Chowpatty Beach Corn that’s slathered in paneer and pepper, and “New Wave Masala” dishes including Mississippi Masala Chicken Wings and Pork Shoulder Vindaloo with Malabar hot sauce. Save room for the wonderfully tender Truck Stop Goat Curry, a gluten-free Punjabi corn tortilla called Makki Ki Roti, Gunpowder Potatoes with masala and tomato chutney, and a passion fruit and coconut sundae.
At Badmaash in downtown Los Angeles, the vibe is considerably more casual, with an upstairs dining loft covered in Bollywood film posters, and a lunch and dinner menu that looks like a parody of the kind you’d find in a classic 1950s diner.
Billing itself as an Indian gastropub, the restaurant specializes in killer curries, like the Ghost Chili Lamb. Father-and-son chefs Pawan and Nakul Mahendro create “Badmaash-ups” of classic English, Canadian and American dishes. Fish & Chips become catfish in chickpea batter served with Masala fries; there’s Chicken Tikka Poutine; and a turkey-stuffed Thanksgiving Dinner Samosa.
Feeling more traditional? Try the classic Indian wedding dish Murgh Makhani, a tandoori chicken finished in a tomato and fenugreek curry. Wash it all down with a Kingfisher lager or Thums Up, the Indian version of Coke.
David A. Keeps is on the Los Angeles beat for Travel + Leisure. The host of Ovation TV's "Art and The City," he writes regularly about travel and design. Follow him on Twitter at @davidkeeps and Instagram at @davidkeepsinsta.