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Nirwana Indian Gastrobar showcases tacos, sliders, and pizza

Mira Mesa gastropub consolidates around chicken curries, vegetarian options, and fusion

An Indian pizza, featuring paneer, curry leaf, onions, bell peppers, cumin, and szechwan peppers
An Indian pizza, featuring paneer, curry leaf, onions, bell peppers, cumin, and szechwan peppers

This menu can’t be pinned down. I see both pasta and chow mein, kabobs and wings, tacos and “artisan pizza.” But mostly, there’s Indian food. A drink at the bar might shed some light on the situation. More specifically, the bartender will.

Place

Nirwana Indian Gastrobar

8242 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Welcome to Nirwana Indian Gastrobar. The bar and restaurant recently opened in Mira Mesa — part of what appears to be a growing trend of Indian fusion gastropubs in San Diego (see also Sorrento Valley’s Daru Indian Gastropub and South Park’s Curryosity). However, I’m told Nirwana’s more of a refresh of a two-headed operation that’s been part of the Village at Mira Mesa shopping center for a couple years.

The previous two restaurants —Inchin’s Bamboo Garden and Tappizza— showed hints of what was to come. Inchin’s offered Chinese food, while Tappizza clearly focused on pizza, including a few India-inspired pies. The two concepts shared a dining patio, full bar, and kitchen, which occupied the center of the space, with a dining room on either side.

One of two dining rooms

Nirwana — apparently named after its co-owner Archana Nirwan (who also operates Naturally Desi Café in Rancho Bernardo) — now occupies both dining rooms, while its menu combines the varied influences of its predecessors, and then some. Indian, Chinese, Italian, and American elements may be found both in food and cocktails, though South Asian flavors clearly headline the concept, led by “large plates” including lamb or prawn curry ($18), chicken or vegetable biryani ($17), and a fish and potato stew called macher johl ($18).

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But I’m drawn first to the “small plates,” which appears to be some fashion of bar menu. Offbeat highlights include an adaptation of Southern Indian yogurt rice called curd rice poppers ($11), and tikka naan tacos ($13).

Tikka naan "tacos" of chicken tikka masala served on naan flatbread

I could not resist the latter, which sees a chicken tikka masala loaded, taco style, into a pair of folded naan flatbreads. Despite their name, and being served in one of those W-shaped taco trays, the tikka tacos didn’t wind up feeling like a cultural fusion to me, because I nearly always wrap my tikka masala in a side order of naan.

The taco order includes a vegetarian-friendly option, which replaces chicken with the cubed cottage cheese paneer, and as the friendly bartender pointed out to me, much of the menu may appeal to vegetarians. Key examples of this may be found in the menu’s “Between buns” section. In addition to a tandoori chicken burger, this features samosa sliders ($14) — which literally places veggie-filled dumplings between halves of a soft dinner roll — and Bombay sliders ($14), which replace beef patties with spicy, fried potato fritters.

Sliders made with spicy potato fritters and a ginger-tamarind-mint chutney

Still, if you’re anything like me, most mesmerizing will be the pizza and pasta page of the menu. For one, it’s tough to resist the concept of Tandoori spaghetti ($16), which puts the famous clay oven baked chicken (or paneer) and its classic marinade over pasta. Then there’s the butter makhni rigatoni ($16), which employs butter chicken (or paneer) and its own spicy tomato curry, known as makhni, thickened with cashew paste.

Both of these are also offered in pizza form, and alas I have no photos of pasta to share, because I had to try one of those Indian-styled pies. You’ll find a relatively conventional pizza with pepperoni ($14), though even the margherita pie ($14) combines the tikka sauce and more paneer.

And yes, there’s a paneer pattern here. The prevalence of vegetarian dishes inspired me to take a stab at trying it on pizza. And since Nirwana takes so many left turns with its menu, including Chinese dishes fried rice and Szechwan noodles, I decided to take the leftist of turns: the Paneer 65 pizza.

The full bar at the center of Nirwana

That’s the veggie alternative to Nirwana’s Chicken 65 pizza, which refers to a well-known-in-India fried chicken seasoning (established in 1965). But coating paneer with 65 seasoning and putting it on a pizza with onion, bell peppers, curry leaves, cumin, dried chilis, and mustard seeds isn’t all that makes it unique. It’s that the sauce turns out to be some sort of Szechwan pepper relish. I don’t know if anything quite like this has ever been served in San Diego before, or indeed whether it should be, but I’m glad Nirwana’s here to challenge us to try it.

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An Indian pizza, featuring paneer, curry leaf, onions, bell peppers, cumin, and szechwan peppers
An Indian pizza, featuring paneer, curry leaf, onions, bell peppers, cumin, and szechwan peppers

This menu can’t be pinned down. I see both pasta and chow mein, kabobs and wings, tacos and “artisan pizza.” But mostly, there’s Indian food. A drink at the bar might shed some light on the situation. More specifically, the bartender will.

Place

Nirwana Indian Gastrobar

8242 Mira Mesa Blvd, San Diego

Welcome to Nirwana Indian Gastrobar. The bar and restaurant recently opened in Mira Mesa — part of what appears to be a growing trend of Indian fusion gastropubs in San Diego (see also Sorrento Valley’s Daru Indian Gastropub and South Park’s Curryosity). However, I’m told Nirwana’s more of a refresh of a two-headed operation that’s been part of the Village at Mira Mesa shopping center for a couple years.

The previous two restaurants —Inchin’s Bamboo Garden and Tappizza— showed hints of what was to come. Inchin’s offered Chinese food, while Tappizza clearly focused on pizza, including a few India-inspired pies. The two concepts shared a dining patio, full bar, and kitchen, which occupied the center of the space, with a dining room on either side.

One of two dining rooms

Nirwana — apparently named after its co-owner Archana Nirwan (who also operates Naturally Desi Café in Rancho Bernardo) — now occupies both dining rooms, while its menu combines the varied influences of its predecessors, and then some. Indian, Chinese, Italian, and American elements may be found both in food and cocktails, though South Asian flavors clearly headline the concept, led by “large plates” including lamb or prawn curry ($18), chicken or vegetable biryani ($17), and a fish and potato stew called macher johl ($18).

Sponsored
Sponsored

But I’m drawn first to the “small plates,” which appears to be some fashion of bar menu. Offbeat highlights include an adaptation of Southern Indian yogurt rice called curd rice poppers ($11), and tikka naan tacos ($13).

Tikka naan "tacos" of chicken tikka masala served on naan flatbread

I could not resist the latter, which sees a chicken tikka masala loaded, taco style, into a pair of folded naan flatbreads. Despite their name, and being served in one of those W-shaped taco trays, the tikka tacos didn’t wind up feeling like a cultural fusion to me, because I nearly always wrap my tikka masala in a side order of naan.

The taco order includes a vegetarian-friendly option, which replaces chicken with the cubed cottage cheese paneer, and as the friendly bartender pointed out to me, much of the menu may appeal to vegetarians. Key examples of this may be found in the menu’s “Between buns” section. In addition to a tandoori chicken burger, this features samosa sliders ($14) — which literally places veggie-filled dumplings between halves of a soft dinner roll — and Bombay sliders ($14), which replace beef patties with spicy, fried potato fritters.

Sliders made with spicy potato fritters and a ginger-tamarind-mint chutney

Still, if you’re anything like me, most mesmerizing will be the pizza and pasta page of the menu. For one, it’s tough to resist the concept of Tandoori spaghetti ($16), which puts the famous clay oven baked chicken (or paneer) and its classic marinade over pasta. Then there’s the butter makhni rigatoni ($16), which employs butter chicken (or paneer) and its own spicy tomato curry, known as makhni, thickened with cashew paste.

Both of these are also offered in pizza form, and alas I have no photos of pasta to share, because I had to try one of those Indian-styled pies. You’ll find a relatively conventional pizza with pepperoni ($14), though even the margherita pie ($14) combines the tikka sauce and more paneer.

And yes, there’s a paneer pattern here. The prevalence of vegetarian dishes inspired me to take a stab at trying it on pizza. And since Nirwana takes so many left turns with its menu, including Chinese dishes fried rice and Szechwan noodles, I decided to take the leftist of turns: the Paneer 65 pizza.

The full bar at the center of Nirwana

That’s the veggie alternative to Nirwana’s Chicken 65 pizza, which refers to a well-known-in-India fried chicken seasoning (established in 1965). But coating paneer with 65 seasoning and putting it on a pizza with onion, bell peppers, curry leaves, cumin, dried chilis, and mustard seeds isn’t all that makes it unique. It’s that the sauce turns out to be some sort of Szechwan pepper relish. I don’t know if anything quite like this has ever been served in San Diego before, or indeed whether it should be, but I’m glad Nirwana’s here to challenge us to try it.

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The latest copy of the Reader

Please enjoy this clickable Reader flipbook. Linked text and ads are flash-highlighted in blue for your convenience. To enhance your viewing, please open full screen mode by clicking the icon on the far right of the black flipbook toolbar.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
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Bluefin edging northward toward San Clemente Island
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