Mahesh Samraj serves puri at Annapurna Cuisine.EXPAND
Mahesh Samraj serves puri at Annapurna Cuisine.
Barbara Hansen

L.A.’s Little India Runs 3 Miles Along Venice Boulevard and Has a Southern Influence

Artesia isn't the only city that can boast a Little India. West L.A. has one, too, although most have no idea it exists.

In Artesia, Pioneer Boulevard is the place to go for weekend biryani, sweets and snacks, the latest styles from India, expensive gold jewelry, threading salons, tulsi plants, freshly made paan and any Indian spice you could need.

Los Angeles has such a street too — it's Venice Boulevard, starting at Main Street in Culver City and heading three miles west, with most of the Indian businesses clustered in the first mile. Here you can eat top-notch food at restaurants that specialize in regional cuisines and shop for fresh drumsticks and curry leaves, Madras coffee, Kerala-style fish curry powder, organic turmeric and different types of Indian rice.

There are Indian fashions, too, for both men and women, as well as bedspreads, beauty supplies and gold jewelry that may not be real but is just as flashy, decorated with elephants and peacocks.

The restaurants and shops are spread out and interspersed with other businesses so they are not as apparent as in Artesia, where Little India is concentrated in a few blocks.

Asia Foods
Asia Foods
Barbara Hansen

As in Artesia, they serve a growing Indian community. In the past 15 to 20 years, IT specialists from India have been flooding in to work for Westside film studios such as Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox, as well as Honda and Toyota in Torrance and other businesses. When Toyota moved its North American headquarters to Texas, Indian restaurants felt the pinch. Proximity to LAX is another draw. The Venice Boulevard restaurants are a logical stop for Indians on their way to or from the airport, so you might see a suitcase standing beside a table. But IT is the main factor in their growth.

The leading IT centers in India are the cities of Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai in the south. This is why Southern food dominates along Venice Boulevard. Southern restaurants include Annapurna Cuisine, which serves only vegetarian food, and Abhiruchi Grill, a sister restaurant that provides meat as well as vegetarian dishes. Their chefs come from Chennai and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu state.

Mayura is the only restaurant in Southern California that offers food from the southern state of Kerala. Customers come from as far as San Diego and Santa Barbara to eat there. Signature dishes include a spicy fish curry made with coconut milk and eaten with appam, which are steamed white cakes made from fermented rice and coconut milk.

Padmini Aniyan is the face of Mayura.EXPAND
Padmini Aniyan is the face of Mayura.
Barbara Hansen

Mayura's owners, Padmini Aniyan and her husband, Aniyan Puthanpurayil, emigrated from Kerala, where he had a restaurant and hotel. They settled first in Culver City and took over a Pakistani takeout place to start their restaurant in 2006.

Padmini Aniyan, wearing saris from Kerala, is always on hand to greet customers. She notes the rising number of Indian residents drawn by the tech boom. "They all live here, in Culver City and Los Angeles," she says. Indian students from UCLA and USC also flock to the area to eat.

Half of Mayura's customers are Indian, 80 percent of them from the south. Those from Kerala are more widely scattered, "but they all come here to eat," she says. Non-Indian customers represent the different ethnicities living in and around Culver City. "Even though they're not Indian, they love Kerala food," she says.

Many customers come for vegan and gluten-free dishes. Menu items that fit those categories include Mayura's appam, noodle-like idiyappam, vegetable or onion pakora, and idli and dosa, both made from a fermented rice and dal (lentil) batter. The one exception would be the rava dosa, because that one is made with cream of wheat, Aniyan says.

Dosa at Annapurna Cuisine
Dosa at Annapurna Cuisine
Barbara Hansen

If any Southern dish dominates the area, it is the dosa, a large crepe served plain or filled, presented flat or coiled into a tall cone. The dosa is the biggest seller at Annapurna Cuisine, general manager Mahesh Samraj says. That restaurant offers more than 20 variations. Mayura has 17.

A must at all South Indian restaurants is biryani, the aromatic layered rice and meat or vegetable dish that reached its pinnacle in Hyderabad. Zafran Pot, which opened in 2016 next to Mayura, posts signs inside and out boasting that it has sold more than 30,000 biryanis. There, it is made in typical Hyderabadi style, sealed in a pot and slowly steamed.

The hot food counter at Zafran Pot
The hot food counter at Zafran Pot
Barbara Hansen

Abhiruchi Grill has just introduced a radically hot version, the Vijayawada style biryani, because some Indian customers want super spicy food. "It's a 10 out of 10," according to a server. Vijayawada is a city in the Southern state Andhra Pradesh. Abhiruchi — the word means good taste — opened in October 2017.

The first Indian food and grocery store on Venice Boulevard was India Sweets and Spices, which opened in 1982. A combination market and hot food counter, it also has a display of sweets made there. To draw Indians from the South, the store offers many Southern dishes and a Southern thali, which is a vegetarian combo that includes a dosa, idli or vada (vada is a fried snack), lemon rice, a vegetable, chutney and sambar, the soupy lentil mixture that always accompanies dosa and idli.

Northern Indian food is present, too. Paneer dishes at Annapurna Cuisine are from the North, where this Indian cheese is widely used. Mayura has tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala. The buffet at Abhiruchi Grill might include both chicken tikka masala and paneer tikka masala, and the regular menu offers tandoori chicken, chicken tikka and lamb or chicken seekh kebab.

Hurry CurryEXPAND
Hurry Curry
Barbara Hansen

The mainstay of Northern food is Hurry Curry, which has been open for 30 years. It's the last outpost, about two miles beyond the rest of the restaurants. A hot food counter offers inexpensive combos, and a large menu lists tandoori meats and breads as well as dishes such as chicken vindaloo, shrimp tikka masala and saag paneer. Customers can eat in a large dining area or take their food home. Part of the restaurant is a shop that carries water pipes, henna, incense, spices and food items such as Punjabi shakkar, a natural palm sugar.

The first restaurant east of Hurry Curry is Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, which specializes in food from Nepal and Tibet. Tara's also has North Indian dishes so that aside from yak chili, you can eat chicken korma, lamb saag or tandoori salmon. While you decide what to order, you can sip a Himalayan mojito, because the restaurant has a beer and wine license, and then drink Himalayan sangria with your food. The dining area is laden with Himalayan touches such as a prayer wheel and a golden Buddha face high on one wall. An OM sign has been worked into the wire fence outside.

The one temple linked to Venice Boulevard is a few steps north with an entrance on a side street. This is the temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The complex includes a restaurant, Govinda's Buffet, which is open to the public. Food there is prepared according to spiritual precepts, one of which is to avoid onions and garlic. This edict has affected nearby restaurants. Annapurna has a menu section titled No Onion Garlic Diet and omits those ingredients from its sambar.

The food at Govinda's is light and fresh, with changing specialties such as sukta, a combination of bitter melon, potatoes, eggplant and green beans in yogurt sauce. The Indian semolina dessert suji ka halava is always on the buffet. Prices are low, with discounts for seniors, kids and students. Food to go is sold by weight.

Stefi's Exclusive
Stefi's Exclusive
Barbara Hansen

Upstairs from the buffet is Govinda's Gifts, a room filled with Indian clothing, gift items, books, jewelry and beauty products such as kohl eyeliner. Stefi's Exclusive, formerly an Indian music shop, is another place to get saris and shawls, pants and flowing tops. It's at the opposite end of the block from India Sweets and Spices and has the same owners.

The mall that includes Annapurna Cuisine is like a mini Little India. Next door to the restaurant is an eyebrow threading place. A couple of doors down is Asia Foods, a well-stocked Indian market. This is where you can buy drumsticks, which are widely used in South Indian dishes including sambar. These long, slim green vegetable sticks are tough on the outside but soft inside, with edible seeds. It's obvious how they got their name. In addition to shelves jammed with spices and other staples, Asia Foods sells meats, including fresh goat meat for dishes such as goat curry, which you can taste at local restaurants.

Blue Krishnas at Kavita Grocery
Blue Krishnas at Kavita Grocery
Barbara Hansen

Across the street, Kavita Grocery carries staple ingredients and also figures of Hindu deities. Among these are blue-colored Krishnas — the god Krishna is always portrayed with blue skin. During the September festival honoring the birthday of the elephant-headed god Ganesha, the store was loaded with Ganesha figures made to dissolve when immersed in water at the end of the observance.

The newest shop is India Food Mart, which opened in April. Small but selective, the market carries ready-made batter for dosa and idli and a few housewares including a tawa (griddle), stands to hold idli and Hawkins pressure cookers, a popular brand in India. It also has fresh curry leaves and leaves for wrapping paan.

Indian snacks
Indian snacks
Barbara Hansen

RESTAURANTS

Abhiruchi Grill, 10823 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 204-2569.

Annapurna Cuisine, 10200 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 204-5500.

Govinda's Buffet, 3764 Watseka Ave., Palms; (310) 836-2676.

Hurry Curry, 12825 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista; (310) 398-2948.

India Sweets & Spices, 9409 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 837-5286.

Mayura Indian Restaurant, 10406 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 559-9644.

Tara's Himalayan Cuisine, 10855 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 836-9696.

Zafran Pot, 10408 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 838-2130.

MARKETS and SHOPS

Asia Foods, 10200 Venice Blvd., #105, Palms; (310) 836-6070.

India Food Mart, 9905 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 202-1135.

India Sweets and Spices, 9409 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 837-5286.

Kavita Grocery, 10201 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 559-0106.

Govinda's Gifts, 3764 Watseka Ave., Palms; (310) 204-3263.

Stefi's Exclusive, Indian Boutique and Gifts, 9443 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 837-5233.

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