What kind of chicken taco is this? The two stacked tortillas at the base look familiar. So do the chopped tomatoes and lettuce. But those fine yellow shreds over the top aren't cheese. They're skinny chickpea noodles. And there's no salsa. It's been replaced by tamarind and mint chutneys. Underneath them are chunks of chicken tikka masala. On one side are tortilla chips, on the other crisp fried pappadum strips.
This is is the way you will eat at Cowboys and Turbans, a Silver Lake place that specializes in Indian-Mexican street food. It's the creation of Baba Ji, a veteran of the Indian restaurants Electric Lotus and Electric Karma.
You'd never guess that a large garden lies beyond the long, sparely furnished room that you enter. Outside, temple doors serve as tabletops. Another table is a thick slab of highly varnished wood that came from somewhere near Varanasi. The two imposing Buddha heads are from New Delhi. You wonder whether you should meditate or eat.
Eating wins, because this is food you'll want to explore. The big, chunky samosas are wrapped in flour tortillas, which makes them even better than conventional samosas, Baba Ji says. Tortillas are pre-cooked and therefore don't absorb as much oil when fried as does raw samosa dough.
Tandoori burritos contain tandoori meats (or tofu), along with cilantro, lettuce and tomato, chutneys and crisp chick pea strips. There are tandoori quesadillas too and naan pizzas and naanwiches. The burritos, quesadillas and naanwiches come with Indian style scrambled eggs for breakfast, which is served on weekends.
Classic North Indian food such as tandoori fish masala, chicken korma, chicken curry, and shrimp saag are “from the villages of Goa,” according to the menu. You'll have to forgive Baba Ji for that. He's from Goa.
New on the menu is a bona fide South Indian masala dosa, accompanied by coconut and tomato chutneys and the thick lentil-vegetable soup called sambar. There's no Mexican touch to this one. The drink to have with your food is freshly squeezed lemon-limeade, which in India would be called nimbu pani.
For dessert, you can have coconut rice pudding, which is Mexico's arroz con leche prepared Indian style. The rice is basmati, cooked with coconut milk, nonfat milk and cashews, then sprinkled with cinnamon.
Why this unlikely combination of food cultures? “I want to always have something different,” says Baba Ji, who later this month will open a natural foods store stocked with ayurvedic teas, spices, nuts and many other items a few feet from the restaurant.
Cowboys and Turbans Silver Lake: 2815 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles; (213) 483-7778.