Baja Sub in Northridge might be the only place in L.A. that serves biryani, burritos, carne asada and curry. It's a culinary mash-up that does not blend cross-cultural elements in single dishes (even though sambals go great with tortilla chips) but instead serves food from both Mexico and Sri Lanka out of an unassuming San Fernando Valley strip mall.
When owner Anura Edussuriya bought the restaurant 10 years ago, it was already established in the community as Baja Sub, a Mexican restaurant with a healthy customer base. So he decided to keep the name and add some Sri Lankan dishes to the existing Mexican menu.
“I have a lot of Mexican customers," Edussuriya says. “No one expects Sri Lankan food at a place called Baja Sub.” The building provides no hints, either. With signage touting cold beer, sodas and cigarettes, it would be hard to see the Sri Lankan connection at all, save for one window revealing a small Sri Lankan flag.
Inside, the wall-mounted menu greets you with "bienvenido" and lists the restaurant's Mexican food mainstays. A clue finally comes just past the counter, on a wall of shelves stocked with a selection of Sri Lankan grocery items, from tea and rice to Maldive fish chips and woodapple jam.
There’s also a countertop display case of buns, known as malu paan, filled with a spicy mixture of potatoes, onions, chiles, chili powder, curry powder, curry leaves and other seasonings; the round ones have chicken, the triangular ones have fish.
In all, Baja Sub has 10 Sri Lankan items, including a rice and curry combo that changes daily and kottu roti. The unofficial national dish of Sri Lanka, kottu roti is a spicy stir-fry of roti bread chopped with vegetables, egg and/or meat and spices, mixed, then re-chopped. The popular roadside dish blends textures, with shredded pieces of the chewy paratha-type flatbread combining with the other ingredients. Sensitive tongues beware: Sri Lankan cuisine can be very spicy, especially when prepared to Sri Lankan tastes.
Baja Sub also makes one of the best biryanis around, but it's available only on Saturdays. A huge serving is redolent with aromatic spices, laden with cashews and raisins, and topped with heaps of grilled onions and pineapple, with a golden-fried hard-boiled egg at the center. The meat in the biryani varies; it can be bone-in pieces of beef, chicken or goat.
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At any given time, you can walk into this strip-mall gem and see people picking up a burrito or kottu roti to go, while folks dine in with plates of Sri Lankan or Mexican food on their tables. While the phrase “only in L.A.” is often overused, Baja Sub lives up to it.
Baja Sub, 8801 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 993-7064