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Sundara, an Indian kitchen with distinction

OB's go-to South Asian restaurant more memorable than most

Lamb biryani with egg, almonds, raisins, and saffron rice
Lamb biryani with egg, almonds, raisins, and saffron rice

Despite being a repeat customer at plenty of all-you-can-eat Indian food buffets, I don’t yet feel as though I have eaten all I can. Though I have left most of them well satiated, from a full belly standpoint, when I think back on all the many flavors that made it to my buffet plate, it’s largely a blur. That’s because, the assortment of curries etc. start to taste the same. Like I know what the tikka masala will taste like, and the tandoori chicken.

Place

Sundara

1424 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego

Ocean Beach restaurant Sundara does not offer an all-you-can-eat special, but its dishes do stand out as distinct compared to many of the generic Indian restaurants we have scattered around the county. Some of that has to do with a willingness to create the occasional fusion dish: tikka masala pizza, for example. But to be honest, the restaurant does its best work sticking to Indian food canon.

Tikka masala pizza

Obviously, that means it’s tough to go wrong with staples such as samosas or naan. The dumplings come stiffed with either vegetables ($7) or lamb ($9), each served with chutney. The flatbread comes plain or with sesame seeds, with additional options including coated with cheese, dressed with garlic and cilantro, or a combination of all three ($3-5).

Saag paneer, a caramelized onion and spinach curry with cubed Indian cheese

Then there’s saag ($14), a curry of spinach and caramelized onion, served with option of vegetables or chicken mixed in, but ideally with the choice of the vagley cottage cheese-like paneer. At least, that’s how you’ll find it served most places, but here the sweet oil from the onion comes through a little more in contrast to the earthiness of the spinach, allowing the small cubes of paneer to center the dish both texturally and in terms of taste.

A small Indian kitchen in Ocean Beach

My favorite has been the lamb biryani ($18), a salty combination rice that makes beautiful use of aromatic spices to complement the gamey aromatics of minced lamb running throughout. The recipe is aided by hits of saffron rice, slivered almonds, slices of hard boiled egg, and the occasional sweet bites of golden raisins. That's a lot of stuff i don't typically expect to find on one plate, but it's sure easy to eat.

Garlic and cilantro naan, a soft flatbread with a little bit of char

Given current dining restrictions, it’s helpful to point out that Sundara’s online ordering system works quite well: I walked into the restaurant, picked a bag with my name on it off a front table, and walked out. I do believe the less than ten minutes total I spend in OB is a personal best.

But the greater point is, there’s more to Indian cooking than throwing spice blends into a pot, and visiting Sundara forces me to realize I need to continue to skip the buffets, even after the pandemic has passed, and redouble my focus on Indian restaurants that bring a little character to their dishes. They won’t always leave me feeling satisfied, but if experience teaches me anything, it’s that I’ll always have an appetite for more.

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Lamb biryani with egg, almonds, raisins, and saffron rice
Lamb biryani with egg, almonds, raisins, and saffron rice

Despite being a repeat customer at plenty of all-you-can-eat Indian food buffets, I don’t yet feel as though I have eaten all I can. Though I have left most of them well satiated, from a full belly standpoint, when I think back on all the many flavors that made it to my buffet plate, it’s largely a blur. That’s because, the assortment of curries etc. start to taste the same. Like I know what the tikka masala will taste like, and the tandoori chicken.

Place

Sundara

1424 Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, San Diego

Ocean Beach restaurant Sundara does not offer an all-you-can-eat special, but its dishes do stand out as distinct compared to many of the generic Indian restaurants we have scattered around the county. Some of that has to do with a willingness to create the occasional fusion dish: tikka masala pizza, for example. But to be honest, the restaurant does its best work sticking to Indian food canon.

Tikka masala pizza

Obviously, that means it’s tough to go wrong with staples such as samosas or naan. The dumplings come stiffed with either vegetables ($7) or lamb ($9), each served with chutney. The flatbread comes plain or with sesame seeds, with additional options including coated with cheese, dressed with garlic and cilantro, or a combination of all three ($3-5).

Saag paneer, a caramelized onion and spinach curry with cubed Indian cheese

Then there’s saag ($14), a curry of spinach and caramelized onion, served with option of vegetables or chicken mixed in, but ideally with the choice of the vagley cottage cheese-like paneer. At least, that’s how you’ll find it served most places, but here the sweet oil from the onion comes through a little more in contrast to the earthiness of the spinach, allowing the small cubes of paneer to center the dish both texturally and in terms of taste.

A small Indian kitchen in Ocean Beach

My favorite has been the lamb biryani ($18), a salty combination rice that makes beautiful use of aromatic spices to complement the gamey aromatics of minced lamb running throughout. The recipe is aided by hits of saffron rice, slivered almonds, slices of hard boiled egg, and the occasional sweet bites of golden raisins. That's a lot of stuff i don't typically expect to find on one plate, but it's sure easy to eat.

Garlic and cilantro naan, a soft flatbread with a little bit of char

Given current dining restrictions, it’s helpful to point out that Sundara’s online ordering system works quite well: I walked into the restaurant, picked a bag with my name on it off a front table, and walked out. I do believe the less than ten minutes total I spend in OB is a personal best.

But the greater point is, there’s more to Indian cooking than throwing spice blends into a pot, and visiting Sundara forces me to realize I need to continue to skip the buffets, even after the pandemic has passed, and redouble my focus on Indian restaurants that bring a little character to their dishes. They won’t always leave me feeling satisfied, but if experience teaches me anything, it’s that I’ll always have an appetite for more.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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