Thanks to the dense Indian population in the Bay Area, you’ll find a wide range of regional Indian food around the Bay, as well as neighborhood gems in SF. The Tenderloin has long been unofficially dubbed the Tandoor-loin, given its proliferation of curry houses and Indian/Pakistani eats, and South Indian dosa and uttapam were popular in SF over a decade before most major US food cities. Covering the gamut from casual to fine dining, chaat (Indian street food) to modern Indian “fusion,” here are seven of our most creative and best Indian restaurants.
Housed in the Minnesota Street Project art gallery building (ideal for a pre- or post-meal art stroll), Besharam was opened in May 2018 by chef Heena Patel and famed fine-dining chef Daniel Patterson. In a space marked by a lively mural from artist Maria Qamar, sassy plateware, and cuisine inspired by Patel’s family roots in Gujarat, India, Patel’s bold, fresh cooking is expressed in dishes like blue cheese naan bread, singing with a spicy garlic cream, pav bhaji (vegetable curry with a fried egg and toasted buns), or silky-light fish moilee in coconut curry.
Neighborhood: Dogpatch MAP
— Vik’s Chaat, Berkeley
Going strong serving chaat since 1989, Viks Chaat is a Berkeley—and Bay Area—institution, thanks to Mumbai-born Amod Chopra and his family, who opened the casual eatery after immigrating to the US in the 1980s. Over 2,000 dishes are served each day at the bustling warehouse space (where they moved in 2009, two blocks south of the original location), everything made fresh to order and calling on recipes from Amod’s childhood. Dosa, uttapam, and idli (fluffy rice cakes) are served alongside bhel, pani, or sev puri, dahi pakori (lentil dumplings), and other street food delights.
Neighborhood: Berkeley MAP
— Campton Place
Michelin-starred Taj Campton Place is one of the greatest upscale Cal-Indian restaurants, not just in SF, but the entire country. Hidden inside the Taj Campton Place steps from Union Square, Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s visionary, modern Cal-Indian cuisine incorporates global flavors with locally-sourced ingredients. Gopinathan’s famed Spice Pot wows, a chaat-inspired mélange served in a plant pot oozing liquid nitrogen “smoke.” But the stunners are many in his seasonally changing tasting menus, whether a creamy avocado “relish,” dotted with pomegranate and mint “snow,” perfectly poached lobster in coastal Kerala curry, or stellar naan buns with yellow lentil paté laced with ghee (clarified butter).
Neighborhood: Union Square/Downtown MAP
— August 1 Five
August 1 Five owner Hetal Shah left a job at Google to open her dream of a restaurant in SF with her husband, Rakesh Tondon (they also run the more casual Red Hot Chilli Pepper in San Carlos). Chef Manish Tyagi (from DC’s acclaimed Rasika) deftly marries traditional Indian dishes—like rarely seen pesarattu, a green mung bean and rice dosa (pancake) with tomato chutney and coconut vegetable stew—with modern ethos and refined twists. Conveniently located near the symphony, ballet, SFJazz, and opera house, the sleek space is ideal for an Indian-inspired cocktail paired with ground bison keema, mustard apple shrimp accented by cucumber yogurt, or tender lamb chops crusted in pistachio and mint.
Neighborhood: Civic Center MAP
— Indian Paradox
Turning two this spring, Indian Paradox is SF’s only Indian wine bar, serving chaat with a range of wines (well beyond Riesling) paired by friendly owner and sommelier Kavitha Raghavan. The cozy space—there are only five tables—offers brunch on Saturdays from 11am-2pm and happy hour menus. Bhel puri is served Bombay street food-style: in a cone, with mint chutney, tomatoes, potatoes, and mango mingling with the crisp of puffed rice and the fermented funk of lime pickles. Dabeli, an Indian potato “burger” on a fluffy bun with tamarind date chutney, sev (crunchy Indian chickpea noodles), and pomegranate, hails from India’s Kutch region and is another house favorite.
Neighborhood: Western Addition/NoPa MAP
Modern Indian restaurant ROOH (which means soul or spirit) is a SoMa destination, whether for workday lunches or game days at the ballpark in the long, chic dining room. Chef Sujan Sarkar brings India and London elegance to dishes like pumpkin mulligatawny with Parmesan mousse, curry oil and tafan bread, or beetroot murabba (beetroot peanut croquette) with plum chutney and goat cheese. Paired with Indian-influenced cocktails cleverly outlined on a flavor wheel (like a mustard old fashioned), Sarkar’s curries and breads shine, whether his lush butter chicken or tandoori roti bread.
Neighborhood: SoMa MAP
— DOSA on Fillmore and DOSA on Valencia
Ever since Anjan and Emily Mitra opened the original DOSA in the Mission in 2005, they’ve done much to popularize South Indian cuisine in SF and beyond. By the time they opened chic DOSA on Fillmore in 2008, they were an institution, and now DOSA Indian takeout foods can be found taken to go from shops and an all day café in Oakland. At DOSA on Fillmore, chef Arun Gupta infuses his Indian-Polish background from his upbringing–his father grew up in India and his mother in New Jersey. Gupta has spent years working in NYC with his recent experiences traveling through India’s Kerala state with the Mitras. The lush curries (like a Philipkutty coconut chicken curry or arctic char seafood curry) are as inspired as the avocado, grapefruit, habanero coconut chaat or hen of the woods mushrooms fried in idli batter.
Neighborhood: Pacific HeightsMAPNeighborhood: MissionMAP