I'll say this upfront, we know almost nothing about Indian Food. In fact, it used to be that the Missus had to be in a particular "mood" to eat Indian Food in San Diego. She'd often find the offerings to be; "butter intense", "too cheesy", "too fatty", and basically "too rich". But after eating Indian Food in Siem Reap, the Missus found Herself craving it upon Her return home. And one of the places mentioned in Chowhound, among other places, was Punjabi Tandoor. In several of the posts and comments I was quick to pick up phrases such as "my Indian friend says", which along with statements like, "I'm Chinese so I should know" always raises more questions than answers with regards to diverse cuisines. But an acquaintance of mine(who has since moved on) who is from the State of Haryana, MrR, told me that the food at Punjabi Tandoor was "humble, but quite good". Which I thought was a nice recommendation, just one of many; until I checked a map and found that Haryana is the State directly to the South of Punjab, and from what I remember reading, was originally carved out of the state of Punjab. Unfortunately, MrR moved on to, hopefully, greener pastures before I could get some specific recommendations, so we were left to our own machinations.
Punjabi Tandoor is not found in San Diego's "Little India" on Black Mountain Road, but a bit further down the street and to your left on Activity Road. The location is a bit odd residing amongst the generic prefab offices and buildings in the area.
The menu is quite large, and can be a puzzle if you haven't much experience with Indian food, but the staff has always been nice and helpful....somewhat helpful.
There are also different "specials" listed on a greaseboard alongside the cash register.
So here's a brief rundown of various dishes we've tried at Punjabi Tandoor.
If you're thinking "Onion Rings", you wouldn't be far off. These were fried to perfection, in a nicely seasoned, lacquer-like batter. Served with the standard green and red chutney, we polished this off in no time at all. What we enjoyed most of all, was that you could make out the sweet flavor of the onion.
Kadai Bakra ($8.95):
This was one of the "greaseboard" specials. Once I found out that Bakra (bakara) means goat, we were all over this dish. On the each of the 3 occasions we had this dish, the meat was very tender and moist. It could stand to be a bit more gamey in flavor, but it was fine. The depth and breath of flavors was excellent.....tangy, salty, with a slow building spiciness that was very pleasant.
There was a nice layer of fat on the top, but the result was a definite "fei ur bu ni", "rich without being greasy".
The Channa Masala ($3.95):
This was nice, not too wet and mildly spicy. At most steam-table joints, the chickpeas will be overcooked and mushy. In this case it was the opposite, the chickpeas were almost too hard.
The Bengan Bharta (Baingan Bharta - $4.95):
Eggplant that is first baked, mashed, than cooked with various herbs, onions, and tomato. This had a nice, rich, velvety texture, and good spice. It also stayed molten hot for quite a long time. Great with Nan.
Dal Makhani ($3.95). We had this twice, the first time, it had a nice smoky flavor, was mildly thick, and was very nice.
The second time, the dish had a thick "skin", which was nice, but it was very thick, and tasted too "milky".
The Okra was cooked to perfection, but the flavor was out of balance....just plain spicy, and not much else. It did taste better the next day.
The Garlic Nan($1.95) was not very good on the day we tried it.
It was incinerated and bitter.
On another day, the Nan($1.49):
This was a serviceable Nan....nothing out of the ordinary.
Chicken Vindalu(Vindaloo $4.95):
This was a bit puzzling to me. I've had Vindaloo before, and it usually has a tangy-vinegary flavor, along with a good amount of spice. This had a "cheesy-sour" flavor, and wasn't spicy in the least. The dark meat chicken was excellent though, I could cut it with my plastic spoon.
On the left Nav Rattan Korma (mixed vegetable curry $3.95), on the right the Malai Kofta ($3.95):
So there you have it, a nice sampling of dishes from Punjabi Tandoor. Punjabi Tandoor may not fit the bill as a place for and "evening out", but most of the food is well flavored, and balanced, and the prices can't be beat.
9235 Activity Road
San Diego, CA 92126