For years, Artesia has been known as the central hub of Indian cuisine and culture in Los Angeles, with plenty of Indian stores and restaurants lining the "Little India" of Pioneer Boulevard. But another hub has been growing in the northwest San Fernando Valley.
A "littler" Little India stretches primarily down Topanga Canyon Boulevard through Canoga Park and into Chatsworth. And though it's easy to clump the cuisines of an entire subcontinent under the term "Indian food," what is represented here is the traditions of various regions within India itself, and those of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and even Bangladesh. Here are picks for seven noteworthy restaurants in the northwest Valley's Little India.
Valley India Cafe
Woodlands' sister restaurant opened in 2010 from chef Sekar Sundramoorthy. Valley India Cafe specializes in a range of Southern Indian dishes, including non-vegetarian items. The restaurant touts the Chettinad leanings of its menu — Chettinad being a region of the Tamil Nadu province in southeast India named for the wealthy Chettiar caste of bankers and businessmen.
The cuisine makes full use of spices like turmeric, ginger, fennel, and coriander. At Valley India, the Chicken Chettinad is a favorite, as is the goat biryani (made spicy and flavored with saffron). The avial vada is another house specialty, a vegetable stew using curry and coconut oil. The mango lassi and masala chai here are staples, but the Madras coffee (a chicory-infused, milk-sweetened concoction) is an interesting alternative. 7257 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Canoga Park, CA 91303
Opened in 2000, Baba Sweets was one of the first spots in Canoga Park serving Indian and Pakistani food to the neighborhood. The location on Saticoy is off the main Topanga Canyon drag where most of the Indian restaurants sit, yet, Baba Sweets is always busy with activity.
Across two counters, the restaurant serves its selection of sweet and savory dishes. The sweets counter offers traditional items like barfi, a milk-based fudge dessert, and rasgulla, a doughy ball cooked in a sugar syrup. The savory counter mainly offers plates from the Punjab province (a region straddling the India-Pakistan border).
The chole bhature (a spicy stew of chickpeas served with a side of fried bhature bread) is a popular order, and the aloo baigan of potato and eggplant comes with a medium spicy kick. And don't forget to grab a complimentary cup of chai while waiting for the food. 21318 Saticoy St, Canoga Park, CA 91304
Coconut Lunch Box
Opened earlier this year, Coconut Lunch Box is a relative newcomer to the area, but has already set itself apart with its South Indian fare, focusing primarily on the region of Kerala in the country's southwest. Find traditional dishes here using kappa (or tapioca) like the fish curry, and meals packed in banana leaf wraps. Seafood is the region's specialty, and the fish pollichathu (steamed fish flavored with chili, coconut, curry, and other spices before wrapped in a banana leaf) is an aromatic treat. 7234 Canoga Ave, Canoga Park, CA 91303
Royal Delhi Palace
The lunch buffet at Royal Delhi Palace has been a perennial favorite for those seeking north Indian and Pakistani cuisine in the area, and at under-$10 for all-you-can-eat, it's clear to see why. The menu features plenty of vegetarian and non-vegetarian items, including several tandoori meats, and a selection of over a dozen breads (naan stuffed with spiced, minced lamb, anyone?) To top it off, order the ras malai, a creamy dessert made with pistachios and cardamom. 22323 Sherman Way #11, Canoga Park, CA 91303
Tawakal moved locations earlier this year, from Chatsworth to West Hills, but the restaurant has stayed much the same. Tawakal's interiors remain sparse, but the menu, full of traditional Pakistani meat dishes, is the real draw. Pakistani cuisine is plenty varied across the country's regions, but is usually more meat-centric and spicy than dishes from north India. At Tawakal, find paya (a curry of mild spice with goat or lamb feet), haleem (beef and lentils, mixed with garam masala, cumin, ginger, and other spices), karahi gosht (wok fried, richly marinated lamb), and nihari (a spicy red curry made with beef shank). 22746 Roscoe Blvd, West Hills, CA 91304
Pearl Island Cafe
Much like southern Indian cuisine, Sri Lankan cuisine uses a full range of fragrant spices, chilis, and coconut. The island nation is an historically centralized port along the trading routes of countries like Indonesia and Thailand, and as such, has absorbed many foreign influences. Pearl Island's specialty is the hopper — a thin, savory crepe shaped into a bowl and served with a filling (like an egg) in the middle. The Deviled Beef is spicy dish similar to a stir-fry and served on rice. And take note: certain Sri Lankan dishes, like lamprais (rice cooked in meat stock and served with curry) and breaded fish cutlets, are only available in large orders for catering. 22730 Roscoe Blvd, West Hills, CA 91304
Opened in 2003 by Sekar Sundramoorthy, who had previously worked as a chef for years in the original Artesia location of the restaurant, Woodlands presents a fully vegetarian (and almost-fully vegan) menu of southeast Indian fare. The utthappam (a flat, doughy, rice-and-lentil based item traditionally served for breakfast, and referred to at Woodlands as an Indian-style pancake) is a particular treat and served with a variety of sweet, savory, or spicy toppings.
The vada (a crispy donut-like pattie of deep fried lentil batter) makes for a nice appetizer or afternoon snack, and is also served with choice of sweet (tamarind), savory (coconut), or spicy (mint) toppings. An order of poori bhaji pairs the puffy poori bread with a rich potato and peas masala. And on friday nights, Woodlands serves up hoppers (a crepe-like flatbread shaped into a bowl) with choice of egg or chicken filling. 9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd, Chatsworth, CA 91311