Finding a good, satisfying, filling meal in Sunnyvale is always a challenge. I’ve proven before that it can be done if your looking for a sandwich, greasy bar food, Japanese, or Korean food. Hell, I’ve already had some pretty darn good Indian food in Sunnyvale before, but I thought that place was a little hit-or-miss and was still on the lookout for a bit more consistency. A little bit of web research brought my attention to Shah, a highly rated spot on El Camino Real, though I definitely didn’t realize the dining experience was going to be as bare bones as it was.
There’s no music. Just the cavernous echoes of every single conversation occurring in the room at once. The AC wasn’t running either. The decor? Peachy orange painted walls with a couple abstract paintings and for some strange reason an even larger painting of mother-fucking DUMBLEDORE. Did I mention this place was loud? Between the constantly ringing telephone for delivery orders and deafening roar of echoing conversations, there was also a rowdy, whiny, Indian child making obnoxiously loud Billy Goat noises. Seriously. This is exactly what I imagine India is like.
There is no waiter service here either. To get food you need to step up to the counter in the rear of the restaurant, decide what you want, place your order, pay, then receive a numbered placard to bring to the table of your choosing. Before you get to your table, you’ll want to grab some silverware, napkins, and water from the side-table near the register though because no one is going to bring them to you.
The food though, was undeniably good. If you’re willing to put up with the chaos and the ruckus, the food totally makes it worth a visit. Better yet, if you’re from the area, get takeout and enjoy it from the comfort of your home or hotel room. For a mere $15, I had myself a veritable feast. I once again ordered way more than I needed to or intended to, but there was so much I wanted to try! Plus, after my recent Chicken Tikka vs Tikka Masala snafu at Ghandi, I knew how to order properly this time and felt the need to redeem that mistake.
Chicken Tikka Masala, as it turned out, was a great pick at Shah. The curry was creamy, rich, chunky, and flavorful and there were many large hunks of white meat Tandoori Chicken, bay leaves, and whole cinnamon sticks to boost flavor. Though not as uncomfortably spicy as the aforementioned Indian curries nearby at Aachi Aappa Kadai, the heat in this dish was substantial. It had a slow burn, the kind the seemed quite mild at first but then by the bottom of the bowl crept up with a vicious haymaker to the face. I dug it.
As an accompaniment to the curry, I got an order of Garlic Naan which came out piping hot with a glistening buttery glow and a seductive fragrance of toasted garlic. I happily swiped up the remnants of the Chicken Tikka Masala Curry with the stretchy, pliant, piece of Indian bread just like it was designed to do.
But the Tandoori Chicken Leg is the main reason I’d recommend heading to Shah. It was honestly some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. The red glowing Tandoori spice rub had a bold, complex, smokey, spicy flavor and that crispy, juicy chicken leg meat was just extraordinary. You definitely don’t want to miss out on this.
To conclude my meal, I had Sweet Paan for dessert. I’d only ever had Paan once before and on that occasion I had ordered it while blacked out drunk at 3 AM in Curry Hill New York not knowing what it was. In actuality, it’s a strange dessert made by taking Betel leaves (which are not too dissimilar to tobacco leaves) and smearing them with a sweet jelly, sprinkling in candy coated whole spices, and wrapping the whole thing up into a folded handheld triangle. I had never had the desire to repeat that rather unpleasant fateful evening, but for some reason I found myself compelled to finish this meal with Paan.
It certainly had a very unusual flavor and texture. First, it had a leafy flavor and texture that was on one hand herbal like mint and on the other kind of gross like chewing tobacco. Inside, the jam was extremely sticky and sweet but the spread served its purpose of holding the crunchy candied medicinal tasting spices together.
Honestly, paan is really more of a palate cleanser than it is a joyfully sweet dessert. It supposedly aids digestion so I wouldn’t expect much dessert-like pleasure from this meal-ender. Whatever the case may be, it’s very strange and not something I particularly enjoy but it did successfully soothe my burning mouth and ease my stomach’s questionable stability.
So if you’re in Sunnyvale and are looking for a great, cheap, no-frills Indian spot to eat in at or take out from, Shah fits the bill well. Everything I’ve had there has been spot on, including the vegetarian dishes I’ve had on subsequent visits. It’s all great, but in my opinion the Chicken Tandoori is reason enough to go.
Got another great Indian spot in Silicon Valley I need to check out? Let me know in the comments below.
962 W. El Camino Real Sunnyvale, CA 94087