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Sundara Indian Cuisine (1774 Sunset Cliffs Blvd, 619-889-0639) started life as a pop-up affair in a coffee shop, taking over the space in the evenings and selling a short menu of curries. Apparently, so successful was the Indian venture that it’s taken over.

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There’s no faulting the decor. The building may be small, but the owners figured out how to maximize table space such that it’s cozy and attractive. Blonde tones and soft lighting suit the place, and the patio seating behind the restaurant is sweet when the air isn’t too clammy.

Ineffectual staff members partially confirmed a tip/rumor that “the service was so fucking shitty” as to deserve special mention. It wasn’t abysmal, but little gaffs made the servers look pretty bad. For example, when two people sit at a four person table, and the server sets dishes, glasses, silverware, etc. at the unoccupied seats on the table--that shouldn’t happen. Sadly, this is exactly the kind of thing that passes for normal in lots of restaurants, but it shouldn’t.

In terms of food, the short menu lists four or five basic curries ($9-$9.50), a few appetizers, tandoori chicken, and not much else. The best curry was the saag (spinach), which was a great example of globalized Indian food, made rich and delicious when filled with veggies or paneer. Sundara deserves some credit for making the vindaloo just the right amount of hot. For “normal” people, i.e. those without a high spiciness tolerance, it will be a tongue scorching experience. The biggest failure was the chicken.

Sundara’s cooks used exclusively white meat chicken in the curries. Indian people the world over groan at the thought of eating chicken breast, mostly because Indian cooks always skin the chicken. Chicken breasts without skin are disgusting and the absence of thigh meat neutered what might have been a good vindaloo. The fact of the matter is, ladling a delicious sauce on top of something so blatantly wrong as dried out chicken breast is worse than OK meat and OK sauce. At Sundara, stick with the paneer (cheese) every time!

On a better note, Sundara’s rice pudding ($4) delighted. The creamy pudding lacked the gluey consistency of inferior confections. Instead, it was richly flavored and dressed with pistachios and roasted almonds. Even the basmati rice on the side of the curry dishes was cooked well, so it seems like someone in the kitchen knows a thing or two about rice cookery! In addition, every dish was plated very well and a feast for the eyes.

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Other little quirks, like charging $0.75 for the (admittedly delicious) chutneys, rankle the skin to the point where Sundara doesn’t hold it down as a restaurant. Being able to get tasty beers on draft helps heal the hurt, but the selection isn’t wide enough to merit outright praise, not for the beers, and not for the restau. It’s OK, but diners would be better off making the trip to Punjabi Tandoor, or even getting an “all you can eat” buffet somewhere for cheaper. A place should taste as good as it looks.

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Comments

Jlc1205 Aug. 19, 2013 @ 6:11 p.m.

Totally disagree re Sundara. I have never been disappointment by the food nor the service. Wonderful staff, owners and fabulous food. Our circle of friends in PL/OB are dedicated customers who return again and again.

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Ian Pike Aug. 20, 2013 @ 12:53 p.m.

I guess it's cool if you and your friends like it. My main point is that, as Indian food goes, Sundara is mediocre at best. Anyone going there and hoping for a killer chicken dish would get dried out breast meat and only-OK curry. I wouldn't dissuade you from going there if you like it....but it's a pooor substitute for legit Indian cookery, which first-time diners might want to know if they were making a decision about whether or not to go spend hard-earned money there.

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punjabi Aug. 21, 2013 @ 2:40 p.m.

I totally disagree with Mr. Pike as well...

I've spent years working in three different SD Indian restaurants...and I feel a little more research is warranted on the writer's part. I've unpackaged/marinated/roasted countless cases of skinless chicken breast over the years in the Indian kitchens...so I'm not too sure where he did his research. I've never seen Chicken Tikka Masala that wasn't exclusively skinless breast meat. Curious.

As a resident of OB I was ecstatic when Sundara arrived. The limited menu is ideal...they basically showcase the greatest hits of globalized Indian fare. And the prices are amazing...which should arguably be factored into a professional and unbiased restaurant review.

Also don't really follow the "skin rankle" comment concerning the chutneys...is 75c too much? The chutneys are included with all the Apps, but charging for additional portions doesn't strike me as fraudulent...

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Ian Pike Aug. 22, 2013 @ 2:45 p.m.

Chicken tikka masala is British food and chicken breast is the worst part of the chicken. Legs and thighs all the way. We get served chicken breasts a lot of the time because people have internalized a (not entirely groundless) idea that dark meat is unhealthy. Sadly, chicken breast meat is lame to the extreme and good curry should be filled with thigh meat. Really, any time you're cooking chicken it's better to eat the dark meat. Ten times as delicious.

Calling the prices "amazing" is an overstatement. $9 for a bowl of OK curry is on the low side of expensive. At Punjabi Tandoor, you get an entire meal with two curries, rice, and naan for that much money. And it tastes better. Don't forget that.

As for charging for sauces, it certainly makes sense from a business standpoint, but people would lose their shit if burger spots charged for ketchup and mayo. It's not a matter of right or wrong, it's just a matter of doing the thing we're all used to and not making customers feel like they're being nickle-and-dimed. Plus, "rankle" is an amazing verb and we should all incorporate it into our daily speech :D

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ReggaeBushmaster Aug. 26, 2013 @ 3:12 p.m.

As a "food critic" writing for a legitimate publication, I suggest you do your journalistic due diligence next time and complete some research before hurling out ridiculous opinions.

You seem highly offended by the chicken breast found in the curry at Sundara. However, if you went to other popular Indian restaurants in the San Diego area you would find they all use breast meat in their curries. For example, the place you plugged twice, Punjabi Tandoor openly states that they use breast meat. I truly feel sorry for you that you find the white meat, "lame to the extreme", but try saving that subjective chatter for the coffee shops and eat something else. A simple look around and you will find breast meat is ubiquitous in curry houses.

As far as your issues with service, lets remember where you are. Sundara is in the heart of Ocean Beach, I've been going there since they opened at their original location. The service has always been polite, laid-back, and very appreciative of my business. So what you had an extra fork left over at your table, get on with something serious, you clearly just wanted to insert that, "service is so f**g shitty" quote (which went unsourced) for attention.

I have always felt that food critics are the most trivial of people, certainly no exceptions here.

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Ian Pike Aug. 27, 2013 @ 12:37 p.m.

So, it's OK for service to be bad as long as it happens in OB? I mean, even the stoniest surfer kid ought to be able to set silverware in front of a guest instead of on the other side of the table, or get through taking an order without dragging a table into an endless verbal maze.

Not asking for miracles here....just competence.

Fact is, I almost never write bad reviews. I'm much more of a lover than a fighter. It just smarts when someone says something less-than-glowing about a restaurant you, ReggaeBushmaster, personally like.

As far as being trivial goes, we kind of hhave to be trivial. 80% of restaurants are very, very average, and it's only small details that make the difference between them. Noticing those seemingly trivial details and teasing them out during a restaurant review is part of the gig. People are generally sensitive to such trivialities, and that includes you, but they don't have the time or words to really spell them out. I do, ergo obsessing over trivialities so you don't have to.

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IJustEat Aug. 27, 2013 @ 9:29 p.m.

I have never been to Sundara, but I have been to Punjabi Tandoor...this is from their menu.

"Chicken Tikka Masala ($5.95) Boneless piece of chicken breast, tandoored in clay oven and then blended in our curry sauce. "

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punjabi Jan. 31, 2014 @ 2:17 p.m.

Agree with everything IJustEat says...but wanted to note that while Chicken Tikka Masala is only &5.95...if you want rice with that it's an additional $2.95!!! Rice is included at Sundara

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IJustEat Aug. 27, 2013 @ 9:35 p.m.

From Urban India: Chicken tikka – white meat chicken marinated & cooked in the tandoor. A mild to medium dish, 8 Basil chicken tikka – white meat chicken marinated in basil tikka sauce & cooked in the tandoor, 8

From Ashoka the Great: Chicken Tikka Masala 12.95 Chicken breast marinated in spices and yogurt, served in our delicious tikka curry sauce. Mint Chicken 12.95 Boneless chicken cooked with mint, fennel, and curry spices.

I don't know where you are eating, Ian, but I looked at three restaurants that I frequent, and all three use boneless chicken breast!

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Ian Pike Aug. 29, 2013 @ 9:29 a.m.

If it helps, sometime I will compose a long and detailed list of places to get delicious curried thigh and leg meat. I promise it's way more better. Om nom nom nom.

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IJustEat Aug. 31, 2013 @ 9:44 p.m.

It won't help, because honestly, your credibility has been shot when you talk about curry moving forward -- it would help, however, if you do some research before spouting off.

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