San Francisco's Tenderloin (Tandoor-loin) is blessed with curry houses and the South Bay with every kind of Indian cuisine, but sometimes you crave the experimental, the non-traditional. When it comes to funky, playful (and cheap) Indian food, there's a few key Bay Area gems.
Curried pumpkin or lamb burritos in whole wheat Indian bread with seasonal fruit chutneys, basmati rice, curried garbanzo beans, pickled carrots, yogurt and tamarind sauce? Avatar's unexpected Mill Valley hole-in-the-wall has been churning out these loaded beauties for years.
Kasa's kati rolls are an ideal, filling snack at $4.50 each (it takes a couple for a meal). Kati rolls are classic Indian street food: basically a buttery roti wrap filled tikka masala, veggie specials, lamb curry, or your choice of filling, alongside cucumber raita (yogurt).
Elegant, upscale, yet still affordable South Indian cuisine in a dining reminiscent of London, Dosa on Fillmore offers "the whole package" with an Indian-influenced cocktail menu, house gin, elevated tasting menus and dishes like South Indian seafood cioppino alongside traditional dosas and uttapam.
Food truck favorite, Curry Up Now, has a hip-casual brick-and-mortar home in the Mission serving funky Indian dishes like Naughty Naan (open-faced naan flatbreads), samosa burgers, deconstructed aloo tikki, and mango mint lassis.
Since the late '80's, the humble dining room at Avatar's has been a surprisingly eclectic Sausalito discovery. Punjabi enchiladas over saffron basmati rice, ravioli in a mango-rose Alfredo sauce, and curried button mushrooms subvert Indian food expectations with memorable meals.
Oakland's Temescal 'hood is now home to former Top Chef contestant Preeti Mistry's Indian food favorite, Juhu Beach Club, once temporarily housed in SF. Indian-style sloppy joe's, sassy lassis, and Holy Cow (smoky black cardamom braised short rib with cucumber raita) show off the fun of Mistry's brightly-colored shop.