Dear Mr. Gold,
Please tell me you’ve been to Shalimar in San Francisco. Then please tell me about a place just like it in L.A. Is it Indian or Pakistani? I don’t know, but there’s good stuff in there — whole cardamom pods and oil-soaked potatoes in the saag aloo, whole cinnamon sticks and peppercorns in the dalmasala, and just incredible comfort in the kabli channa. I crave their food, but can’t be expected to drive to the Bay Area every time I get a hankerin’.
I have been to Shalimar. It’s one of those restaurants that tends to wind up on the itineraries of travelers of a foodist bent, as local friends insist upon the virtues of what they consider the Best Indian Dive in the World. (Later, they will insist that you sample the Best Bread in the World, the Best Coffee in the World and the Best Rice-Stuffed Hen in the World. San Franciscans are nothing if not obsessive about what they eat.) Shalimar’s location, in a particularly hooker-intensive stretch of the Tenderloin, is in a place only William T. Vollmann could love, and its greasy, smoky cuisine is certainly flavorful, as long as you remember that the cooking-school adage “Fat is flavor” also has its corollary.
If what you’re looking for is meaty, spice-intensive Indian food in less-than-posh surroundings, Ambala Dhaba, on Westwood near Santa Monica, has rough, delicious Punjabi dishes — spinach with special cornmeal roti, a great curried goat, spicy eggplant and creamy dal as powerfully seasoned as any bowl of New Orleans red beans — although the tandoor-cooked meats may be more timid than you might prefer. For the whole package, you may want to check out Al Noor, which is a teeming hub of sizzling breads, grilled kebabs and smoky, garlicky tandoori chicken just south of LAX. The Pakistani stews, especially the gingery lamb shanks called nehari and the grain-enhanced beef dish haleem, are first-rate. 15112 Inglewood Ave., Lawndale, (310) 675-4700.
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