As it clearly states in the Los Angeles city charter: Anything that can be wrapped in a tortilla should be wrapped in a tortilla.
Roy Choi stuffed tortillas with Korean BBQ and it helped define the city’s cuisine. Farid Zadi’s North African tacos at Revolutionario are a revelation. Wes Avila once served a foie gras and oxtail taco from the Guerrilla truck that easily could have doubled as a $23 small plate somewhere with Edison bulbs and distressed-wood tables. The inside of a tortilla is an infinite vacuum of possibility.
So it seems weird that you don’t see more Indian food turned into tacos and burritos and mulitas. It just makes so much sense, especially in a city like Los Angeles. Cowboys & Turbans in Silver Lake had a solid five-year run fueled by jumbo channa saag burritos and other such dishes, but otherwise the options seemed pretty slim.
When I was idly scrolling through Postmates one night — the modern version of checking an empty fridge out of boredom — and I saw the words “chicken tikka masala quesadilla” in succession, I could not have been more excited. This was it. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
23rd Street Café, situated in a residential neighborhood about a mile from USC’s campus, opened in 2006 and originally served your typical L.A. lunch standbys — burgers, pastrami sandwiches and bean burritos. But according to current owner Hari Singh, “There were a lot of Indians in this neighborhood — mainly students at USC — and they kept asking me, ‘Why don’t you make Indian food?’ So we started with a few Indian dishes, and then we came up with this idea to start mixing Indian with Mexican. And people loved it.”
You can still get the usual burgers, fries and omelets, and there’s also a whole menu full of Indian dishes. But the main draw has become items like the paneer tikka breakfast burrito, filled with cubes of springy, heavily spiced Indian cheese, hash browns, cheddar and eggs, and served with red and green salsas. There’s also the chicken tikka masala quesadilla, where the spiced gravy melts into jack cheese and creates the most fragrant version of Taco Bell’s spicy chicken quesadilla that you could imagine.
There’s nothing precious or fancy about 23rd Street Café, and the Indian-Mexican fusion idea seems to be rooted in genuine human experience. This place isn’t trying to make a quick buck by slapping mango chutney on a taco and hashtagging it until it’s popular. We’ve all seen it happen.
Your New Year's resolution should be to eat more Indian breakfast burritos, and 23rd Street Café is here to help you hit that goal.
936 W. 23rd St., University Park. (213) 749-1593, 23rdstcafe.net.