MEMORABLE MIX The salad with spicy Goan chickpeas and paneer is one of Tava's standout dishes. Photo by Amy Buchanan.
If there is anything the food-truck movement has shown us, it’s that there is a growing market for high-quality, inexpensive, hand-held food. This demand is showing itself more and more in the success of emerging brick-and-mortar restaurants like Tava Indian Kitchen, which opened its first location about a year ago in Palo Alto and has already opened a second spot in San Francisco, serving fast and affordable Indian Cuisine.
When I swung by Tava’s Palo Alto location, I saw a constant stream of diners throughout my entire meal. This is the fast food of the future. It’s quick, cheap and delicious but also healthy and flavorful. What I like about Tava is the amount of thought the owners have put into their business.
They describe Tava as “America’s gateway to Indian food,” which they have achieved by designing a simple menu with fewer ingredients than a typical Indian restaurant, preparing familiar-looking food but still remaining true to traditional flavors. I like Indian food precisely for its strong, complex, competing flavors, but Tava’s slightly damped-down version certainly creates a superior alternative to most fast-food restaurants.
Ordering at Tava resembles the assembly-line process at Subway. First you select your meal’s packaging—a wrap, rice bowl or salad. The wrap is known as a “burroti,” a clever mashup of burrito and roti, the south Asian whole-wheat, tortillalike bread. If you order the burroti, they grab a ball of dough and actually flatten and cook the roti right there on a tava, the large Asian griddle that inspired the restaurant’s name. The protein options include chicken, lamb, paneer (a soft Indian cheese) and spicy Goan chickpeas (cooked in coconut milk, garlic, ginger and onions). The prices are based solely on the choice of protein. Lamb is $7.99; all the others are $6.99. The next choice is sauce. There is tikka (light tomato cream) and daal (spicy lentils). You finish it off with a choice of chutney: mild tamarind, medium cilantro, hot mint or an in-house hot “lava” sauce.
I ordered a rice bowl with chicken, tikka and yogurt dip; it tasted somewhat like chicken tikka masala, but since the sauce and chicken were cooked separately, it didn’t meld quite as well. I also got a burroti with lamb, tikka and the lava sauce—which was really hot. I sampled a salad with paneer, spicy Goan chickpeas, daal and mild tamarind. It was by far the best dish I ordered. The paneer was lightly grilled, which gave it a nice punch, and the chickpeas had the complex flavors the other items lacked. You could taste the ginger, garlic and the light sweetness of the coconut milk in every bite. For $2.49, you can get a side of naan chips, which are very tasty, crunchy and worth the extra couple bucks.
Tava Indian Kitchen
Town & Country Village; 855 El Camino Real, Unit #162,
Palo Alto; 650.321.8282