There’s a funny, almost palpable sense of disbelief among the diners at The Bombay Frankie Company restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of the 405. As if having anticipated otherwise, they almost can’t help but mention to the employee running the cash register how good the food is. As if having experienced this exact reaction before, he smiles knowingly and thanks them in between ringing up more customers. Perhaps the fact that this booming Indian restaurant is located in a Chevron station has something to do with the phenomenon.
Started just two years ago, in a strange way, the popular spot has been in the works for more than three decades. As kids growing up in L.A., “foodpreneurs” Priyanka Mac and her brother Hiram, along with their parents, were frequent patrons of local Indian restaurants owned by chef Kamaljit Singh. Like so many hard-working, industrious immigrants, chef Singh’s career trajectory followed an impressive, somewhat familiar pattern. Arriving from India, he started out as a dishwasher at India’s Tandoori restaurant, rose to head chef, and eventually opened three of his own restaurants including Nawab Cuisine of India and Bombay Café.
Having become great family friends with the siblings and their parents, when Singh lost the leases on his existing restaurants a few years ago, he approached the family about taking over a slice of their West L.A. Chevron station to start a new eatery. As luck would have it, the siblings had been mulling over the idea of starting a business together, although, according to Ms. Mac, whose background is in the fashion industry, starting a restaurant was “the last thing I wanted to do,” saying that it seemed like a “nightmare.”
Thankfully, less rational heads prevailed, and the group took the plunge into the restaurant business together. Now a thriving operation, Bombay Frankie serves a pared-down but enticing menu that centers around frankies, an Indian street food that is essentially the Indian equivalent of a burrito. With lively Indian music playing on the speakers and a full, spotless kitchen that even includes a tandoor oven, it’s easy to forget that just outside truckers are filling their rigs.
Fresh, creative, and remarkably reasonable (prices range from $9 to $13.50), the frankie served here offers a big bang for the buck. Options for the main filling include chicken tikka, tandoori paneer (cubed cheese), aloo gobhi (sweet potato with cauliflower), shahi paneer, white fish, and chana masala (chickpeas). Wrapped like a burrito in piping hot thin naan, the frankie is filled with a glorious, tasty mixture of chickpea spread, jeera potatoes, red onion, and mint chutney among other ingredients. The result is an unusual, satisfying mixture of tastes and textures that make it hard not to order a second before the first is even finished.
In addition to the frankie, the main fillings above can also be ordered as bowls or à la carte entrees. Other menu options include yellow and black daal, saag paneer, and chicken and vegetable biryani. Sides include papadum, pakora, besan fries, along with the usual assortment of chutneys.
Of the lean, curated menu, Mac says the idea was to start with their favorites and really get those right. Feeling that Indian food was often misrepresented, the number one goal was authenticity. Not surprisingly, she reports their classic chicken tikka masala is the overwhelming favorite followed by their samosas, made from a family recipe.
Although there’s a small seating area, Mac says their delivery business is booming: “It’s quite large and represents 40 percent of our business.” Needless to say, take-out is popular here as well.
With their current location now running as a well-oiled machine, Mac says 2020 will see the opening of a second location in Culver City, this time in a more traditional restaurant setting. In addition to more seating and “better ambiance,” there will be additions to the menu as well, including beef and lamb dishes and as well beer and wine.
Until then, regulars and pleasantly surprised customers will continue to crowd the tiny but bustling restaurant, filling up in more ways than one.
The Bombay Frankie Company inside the Chevron station, 11261 Santa Monica Blvd., Sawtelle; (310) 444-9241, thebombayfrankiecompany.com.