If you want edgy Indian food, head to the north end of downtown L.A. and Kapoor’s Akbar Indian restaurant. It’s on Cesar E. Chavez Avenue in a complex that once housed a Walmart.
Kapoor is chef and restaurant owner Avinash Kapoor. This new Akbar replaces his Pasadena restaurant, Akbar Cuisine of India, which ended a 21-year run in February. Another Akbar is on Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey. Kochi, a South Indian restaurant in Hermosa Beach, is also part of the group.
Open since March, Akbar downtown is putting out fun dishes for a young crowd, targeting students in the nearby Orsini apartments and anyone who wants something other than tandoori chicken, saag paneer and garlic naan, although these standards are on the menu, too.
Indianized lamb sliders show his new style. They’re seriously spicy, thanks to seasonings such as ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and garam masala, and to mint chutney on top of the ground lamb patties. The bun is brioche.
Dirty fries are his version of poutine without the cheese curds, he says. They’re really spicy, too — Kapoor’s cooking tends that way. Lamb keema (ground lamb with a host of Indian seasonings) covers the crisp fries, and a sunny side up egg spreads over the top.
Also new is spicy garlic shrimp, from Goa on India’s west coast. Serrano chilies and cayenne boost the heat level. The sauce is yellowish with turmeric and incorporates plenty of fresh chopped garlic plus lemon juice and vinegar.
Pork vindaloo may be new to this restaurant, but it’s an old Goan dish, also tangy with vinegar. Kapoor makes it in classic style, first marinating the meat for hours.
A dish from his personal past is chicken kati roll, “something I used to make for myself at home,” he says. The wrapper, a whole-wheat roti, is filled with diced chicken tikka caramelized with tomatoes and onion, enriched with a dash of cream and finished off with fenugreek leaves and garam masala. A cool mango sauce helps cut the spiciness.
Vegetarians have plenty of choices, including vegetable bhuna, with seasoning that makes vegetables such as carrots, celery, potatoes and bell peppers seem anything but ordinary. Bhuna means sauteed. For this and the other dishes, Kapoor mixes his own spice blends.
By now you may need something calmer, and that would be Kapoor’s new take on the watermelon/feta salad. The Indian cheese paneer replaces the feta. There’s fresh mint, too, and a subtle taste of chaat masala in the dressing. A three-cheese naan with cream cheese, cheddar and Parmesan also helps to counteract the spiciness.
The new restaurant has Kapoor’s signature touches: an open kitchen, a wine list and wine dinners. A dinner with Duckhorn Vineyards took place in July. Another is in the works.
The space is sleek and spare, with one flamboyant touch: a mural that depicts a Mogul celebration involving a wedding procession, dancing, musicians, an elephant and more. This was painted in 1975 for Akbar in Marina del Rey, where it was on view for 19 years. Then it spent 10 years in a Santa Monica Akbar that closed. The mural went into storage and now lines a wall in the new Akbar, as brilliant as ever.
Kapoor’s Akbar Indian Restaurant, 701 W. Cesar E. Chavez Ave., #107, downtown; (213) 372-5590, kapoorsakbar.com. Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5:30-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 5-10 p.m.