It’s tough to believe, but only ten years ago, if you wanted dinner from your favorite restaurant, you had to go to said restaurant in person. Those were primitive times, when home delivery was the domain of pizza joints, and the occasional Thai or Chinese spot. Then came the delivery apps. Today, no fewer than five operate in San Diego, bringing the food of any restaurant offering to-go containers to your doorstep.
Now, a new kind of local restaurant has emerged. It’s got a web site where you may order food, but no dining room. Dabbawala takes orders for delivery only.
Dabbawala is affiliated with a traditional eatery, the Point Loma Indian restaurant, Sundara, and its menu is nearly identical. However, Dabbawala operates out of a commercial kitchen in Balboa Park, delivering hot food to households within a few minutes’ drive.
The name Dabbawala refers to a common boxed lunch delivery practice in Mumbai. But lunch isn’t an option for this service. At the moment at least, hours run 5 to 9pm nightly. The cost of delivery strikes me as reasonable, with a $15 minimum and a fee that doesn’t go to the restaurant, or any middleman. Dabbawala specifies, “We have a 15% delivery service charge instead of tipping. This service charge goes to the delivery drivers and cooks.”
Dabbawala mentions that commercial kitchen is equipped with a clay tandoor oven, so ordering its 24-hour marinated, roasted at 700 degrees, tandoori chicken ($9.75) was my first priority. While there were a good number of vegan options that looked enticing, I supplemented with lamb samosas ($6.75) and the spinach and cheese dish, saag paneer ($11.75, including rice).
I was given an hour estimate, but the food showed up much quicker than that. It was packaged in recyclable plastic containers in a paper bag. I opted out of disposable utensils, which all home delivery orders should do, because we all have our own knives and forks.
The food was terrific, all around. The tandoori chicken had been roasted tender, with the occasional crispy edge. The spinach leaves in the saag had almost gelatinized, disintegrating with each bite, around the semi-soft texture of the paneer. The samosas could have used more lamb, but, loaded with peas and minced veggies, ate like a curried shepherd’s pie.
The meal adequately served two large appetites, and I will be ordering again, when I’m too tired to go out, and too put off by the fluctuating costs of delivery apps, which now charge between six and nine bucks per order on weekend nights, not including tip. Based on my Dabbawala experience, I would not be opposed to more delivery-only eateries.
I can’t see a restaurant having the gumption to try such a business model in the past, but at this point in San Diego history, we’ve reached a critical mass of homebodies accustomed to getting our movies, groceries, and dinner on demand. If Sundara can furnish food for customers without having the costs or headaches of table linens, silverware, dishwashing, or managing waitstaff, I can see a lot of businesses pursuing the same model.