With its fresh ocean air, California beaches, and magnificent architecture, San Francisco is simultaneously your dream tourist destination as well as the ideal spot to settle down.
Whether you are a true-blue San Franciscan, a college student finding your bearings, or just on a visit because you’re a fan of Full House, you cannot leave without exploring the food scene.
So, let’s start off your expedition with this list of the best Indian restaurants in San Francisco — guaranteed to add spice to your adventure.
Best North Indian: Little Delhi
For centuries, the city of Delhi has been home to various cultures. Travelers from all directions brought their cuisine with them, finding their niche in the streets of Old Delhi, blending with the native fare. Little Delhi captures this cosmopolitan spirit in its dishes.
From budget dinners to catered events, it offers a range of options to choose from. Savor classic north Indian dishes, like naan and chicken tikka masala, and top it off with a kulfi or rasmalai for dessert.
Best South Indian: Udupi Palace
If you are looking for South Indian food in San Francisco, stray no further than Valencia Street, home to Udupi Palace, the ultimate destination to satisfy your idli and vada cravings.
Udupi Palace does not restrict itself to just conventional South Indian dishes, however. From the fried idlis to the gobi Chettinad dosa (a dosa with cauliflower and spices) and the tomato omelet uthappam, the menu goes above and beyond to experiment with the tastes of South India.
And if the location is not on your regular commute, or you’d rather savor a chana bhatura from the comfort of your couch, order online.
Best Indian Non-Vegetarian: Curry Leaf
Named after the curry leaf, which seasons almost every dish in India, this restaurant is the ideal spot for the best non-vegetarian Indian food in San Francisco. Featuring an elaborate fusion of Indian and Pakistani cuisine, it brings to you a variety of chicken and lamb dishes in versions you’ve (likely) never seen before.
The house specialty is the nihari: cuts of sirloin beef cooked in homemade sauce and garnished with jalapeños and ginger. The chicken menu includes unique dishes like the karahi chicken — boneless chicken stewed in a homemade onion-based sauce — and the chicken vindaloo.
Best Indian Vegetarian: Besharam
Besharam presents an all-vegetarian feast, focusing specifically on Gujarati cuisine. It has perfected the art of serving Indian food with a novel approach. Showcasing her culinary skills, Chef Heena has overturned the original meaning of ‘besharam’ (‘shameless’) and presents traditional dishes with a new spin.
The menu is divided into 4 sections, based on the cities from which the dishes are inspired. Try out a maska paneer from Vadodara, a pav bhaji puff from Ahmedabad, a sev puri from Surat, or some kebabs from Rajkot.
And then, cool it all down with the aptly named Summer Breeze — a snack made with baby cucumber, avocado, yogurt, raita and salty peanuts — or fortify yourself after a tough day at work with some drunken pani puri (semolina puffs filled with crushed peas, lemon tamarind water, mint, and a splash of gin).
Best Indian Restaurant and Cocktail Bar: Rooh
True to its name, Rooh (meaning ‘spirit’) preserves the spirit of authentic Indian cooking in its delicious menu, with a classy setting that makes it the ideal spot for entertaining your business associates. Featuring a progressive take on traditional Indian flavours, the menu features innovative dishes such as tandoori monkfish and masala jackfruit tacos.
The bar offers beer and wine, as well as cocktails that are categorized into rasas (flavors): sour, bitter, astringent, salty, pungent and sweet. For example, the Banaras Sour combines gin, coconut, snap peas, lime and egg white, while the Kerala Twist (sweet) is a concoction of dark rum, rhubarb, cardamom, bitters and honey.
The wines on offer include red, white, rosé, and bubbles from different vineyards in America. And if you prefer a good old glass of beer to round off your day, you can go for a “Proper Dry” Cider.
Best Indian Street Food: Curry Up Now
Street fare has always showcased the best in Indian cuisine. And if you’re a street food buff, this is the best place to try out Indian food in San Francisco.
Since its inception, Curry Up Now has been one of the fastest-growing food companies in San Francisco. Their extensive menu features classic snacks, like pani puri and samosas, along with items like kachori chaat (Rajasthani hard-shelled puris stuffed with Thar desert lentils, potato garbanzo mash, and chaat masala yogurt) and kathi rolls (egg-washed flatbread, onions, cilantro chutney, and your choice of protein, with a side of housemade potato chips and pico).
The menu includes vegan options as well, such as the Hella Vegan Burrito — a tortilla wrap of samosa, chutneys with rice, chana garbanzo masala, and sliced onions.
The chefs have also rounded up the most popular dishes from Indian street food to adapt them to the American food scene. Try out the ghee makhni burrito (filled with spiced butter masala, onions, chickpeas, and your choice of protein) or the Naughty Naan, which combines the classic Indian flatbread with mozzarella, shaved jalapeños, caramelized onions, and your choice of protein.
The tandoor is an indispensable part of North Indian cooking, churning out breads, meat delights, and veggie fare cooked in a traditional clay oven. If you are on the lookout for the best Indian food in San Francisco, you’ve got to try out the tandoori food at Aslam’s Rasoi.
While the restaurant provides an array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian and Pakistani food, it specializes in tandoori dishes. The clay oven in Chef Mohammad Aslam’s rasoi (kitchen) tirelessly produces delicious treats, like the paneer tikka tandoori, tandoori prawns, and seekh kebabs.
For the full tandoori experience, go for the mixed tandoori, which is an assortment of chicken, lamb, fresh fish, and prawns. They’re best combined with the assorted breads — garlic and basil naan, onion kulcha, and tandoori roti — all baked in the clay oven.
Best for Those on a Budget: Pakwan
Whether you’re a college student on a tight budget or an employee striving to make your monthly income last, money should be no object when it comes to food. Pakwan offers an assortment of dishes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian within a 15 dollar price range.
Get your money’s worth with a sizeable lamb biryani or try out the Pakwan-style baingan bharta (eggplant cooked with onions and tomatoes). Or treat your tastebuds to an extra-spicy chicken achar (pickle) and wash it down with a sweet yet cool mango lassi.
Best Indian Curry House: Roti Indian Bistro
This restaurant may be named after the humble bread, but it is cited as the best curry house for those seeking Indian food in San Francisco.
If you’re in the mood for South Indian, try out the murgh Madras — chicken curry cooked with coconut and golden raisins. If you prefer lamb, order Roti’s rogan josh, which is lamb curry with garlic, ginger, peppercorns, onions, and saffron. The menu also has seafood specialties like jheenga palak (jumbo prawns cooked with fresh spinach, mild spices, herbs, ginger and fenugreek).
If you’re lucky, you’ll also find a monthly special that suits your taste, such as the butternut squash shourwa — a seasonal soup with spices, onions, and masalas pureed to perfection — or a murgir jhol, which is a Bengali-style chicken curry.
Best Biryani: Biriani House
The biryani successfully combines tangy spices, mouth-watering meats, and soft puffy rice to bring out a masterpiece that biryani lovers dub an ‘emotion’ rather than a food item. And your search for the best Indian food in San Francisco would be incomplete without a visit to Biriani House.
The restaurant offers chicken, lamb, and goat biryani for meat lovers, or vegan and vegetarian biryani for those not so keen on their meat. If you have a sensitive palate, you can also ask for the less spicy versions. And if you’re partial to seafood, ask for the prawn or fish biryani.
After all of that, it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth with a gulab jamun and wrap up in style!
So, the next time you find yourself cruising down the Golden Gate Bridge, we hope you will give in to the tantalizing aroma of food stewing in coconut oil or baking in a tandoor as you check out the best Indian food in San Francisco.