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I'm a self-confessed devotee of South Indian food: give me idli and sambar and keep the fork! That doesn't mean I have a problem with North Indian food, which is good since most Indian restaurants focus on the more familiar cuisine of India's northern regions, specifically Punjabi food. Punjabi Tandoor in Miramar being an excellent example thereof.

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The Punjabi region actually contains large parts of Pakistan and its cuisine, heartier and more meat-based than the food from further south, reflects that proximity. It wasn't so long ago that India and Pakistan were one country and, when eating Punjabi food, you might just as easily say "Pakistani food" as "Indian food." It's easy to get carried away talking about cultural distinctions in India, where there are more people than live in the US, Canada, and Mexico combined. I'll leave the geography lesson there and get back to the food.

Punjabi Tandoor's menu makes good use of the eponymous earthen oven. Their naan, baked flatbread that's blistered by the heat of the oven, is fantastic and the marinated kebabs and broiled meats that come out of the tandoor have the deep flavor and vigorous charring that's synonymous with Indian food for many people.

The curry dishes are all excellent as well and the lunch specials ($7-$10) that offer a selection of meat and vegetable curries, rice, naan, and side dishes like samosas, are a prime opportunity to dive headfirst into a sampling of the restaurant's fare. Some of the dishes make use of chili peppers to add a little heat, but don't worry about napalming the palate, it's not that spicy. Do make sure to ask for naan if lunch or dinner doesn't include it already.

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The best part of my trip to Punjabi Tandoor almost didn't happen. Had I not made a return trip from the patio in search of napkins, I wouldn't have seen the little jar of pickle concealed next to the plastic forks and other accessories. The 'i' had been dotted with a heart, as though by an exuberant tween girl going gaga over the Beeb.

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"Ooh! Can I take the pickle?" I asked.

"Of course," said the girl behind the counter, with an if-you-really-want-to look.

"Did you make it here?"

"Yes," she said, "my grandmother makes it.

I swooned a little as I opened the jar. Lovingly hand-pickled limes laced with caraway seeds. They had been cured with such ardent perfection that the rinds had achieved that perfect chewy-mushy consistency and the salty, spicy, sour, fermented kick in the sinuses that the lime pickle delivered was what really took the meal from good to freaking amazing. Seriously, Indian pickle is one of the all-time great culinary inventions. It makes kim chee look like sauerkraut from a can; it has more funk than George Clinton and comes in more varieties than I'll ever have time to eat; and it costs next to nothing at any Indian store.

But the best stuff is still made by grandmothers out of limes, salt, and spices.

Punjabi Tandoor
9235 Activity Road
858-695-0956
M-Sat 11-10
Sunday 9-5

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