Where to Find Authentically Spicy Indian Frontier Cuisine in Monterey

Is it wrong that I want to eat Indian food surrounded by Indians? I don't want this to come off sounding bad, but there's something that just feels right about eating in an ethnic restaurant that's actually filled with people of that ethnicity. I view it as a sort of tip of the hat to the place's street cred and I've often found that it's a pretty consistent indicator to determine if the place is going to be authentic and good. Just think about it, if Indians don't want to eat this food when they're dining out, why would I?

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Mike Winston’s Best Bites of 2014

What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too.Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin!And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.

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Fast, Cheap, Flavorful, No-Frills Indian at Shah in Sunnyvale

DSC_4500_editFinding 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.

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Eat Curry in a Velvet-Lined Subway Car at Ghandi Cafe in the West Village

DSC_4398_editHave you ever wanted to eat Indian food in a velvet-walled subway car? No? The thought has never crossed your mind either? Well, I didn't even know that was an possibility before I ate dinner at West Village's Ghandi Cafe.This narrow hole-in-the-wall is a really strange place. It's situated right off the corner of Bleeker and 6th Avenue and it would be all to easy to walk right past its dingy facade. I wasn't kidding about the velvet walls either. It really does look like a dressed-up subway car with a zany mish-mash of decor accents like tulip-shared sconces, English Premiere League flags, chandeliers, mirror-paneled walls, and Christmas lights.

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Really Unusual Burmese Soup & Salad at Burma Superstar in the Richmond

DSC_4657_editI don't think I'm unearthing any secrets with this one. This famed Burmese restaurant in the Richmond has been featured on the Food Network numerous times and is reputed for having constant lines out the door. Somehow, when I showed up at 12:30 on a Sunday, a time when I assumed the restaurant would be at peak capacity, it in fact had no line. I was seated at a two-top on my own immediately. Amazing.

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Fiery South Indian Chettinad Curry at Aachi Aappa Kadai in Sunnyvale

I must be a sick person, but sometimes I enjoy watching my friends squirm and turn bright red while experiencing authentically spicy food. This wasn't the first time this week that I had nearly brought a buddy to tears of spicy pain. On this evening, four of us headed to a restaurant called Aachi Aappa Kadai in a very Indian-heavy area of Sunnyvale, CA to sample food from the Chettinad region. With a name like that with so many A's at the start, I've got to wonder if they did it to get their name at the beginning of the Yellow Pages (when they were still relevant).

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Classic Indian & Pakistani Curry at Shezan in Mountain View
Classic Indian & Pakistani Curry at Shezan in Mountain View, CA

Classic Indian & Pakistani Curry at Shezan in Mountain View

Sometimes I get a craving. A craving that can only be quenched by curry. On this particular evening, after finishing up work in Sunnyvale, I knew it had to be an Indian night. I searched the nearby radius and came across a highly rated Indian and Pakistani restaurant on the main drag in Mountain View called Shezan. Sold.

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A Rare, Spicy Indian Take on Chili at the Desi Food Truck in SoHo
A Rare, Spicy Indian Take on Chili at the Desi Food Truck in SoHo

A Rare, Spicy Indian Take on Chili at the Desi Food Truck in SoHo

DSC_3267_editIn the western reaches of SoHo there are tons of office buildings loaded with hungry workers in need of a good lunch. This draws a wide variety food trucks to the area to line those streets on a daily basis. Most of these trucks are the hipster-fusion variety which attract long lines and park on either Varick or Hudson just below Houston.But if you walk just one block back east, you'll find a strange triangular park called SoHo Square Park on 6th Avenue between Broome and Spring. At the top edge of the park, on most days, you'll find a bright yellow food truck painted with very stereotypical Indian stylistic colors and decorative flourishes called the Desi Food Truck serving humble Indian dishes and never has a line.

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Deliciously Spicy Momo Dumplings and Lamb Curry at Himalayan Kitchen in Mountain View
Deliciously Spicy Momo Dumplings and Lamb Curry at Himalayan Kitchen in Mountain View, CA

Deliciously Spicy Momo Dumplings and Lamb Curry at Himalayan Kitchen in Mountain View

*Editor's Note 7/17/14: I have recently returned to Himalayan Kitchen and the entire restaurant and shopping center has been remodeled and is much nicer now. The food is just as good as ever, maybe even better.Way off the beaten path, in a seriously run-down shopping center in Mountain View, California you’ll find a sketchy looking restaurant called Himalayan Kitchen. Had I not read good things about this place online before driving over, I might have been turned off by the truthfully off-putting appearance, but I followed my instincts and continued on with my hungover Himalayan quest.

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Fresh, Flavorful, & Spicy Chipotle-Style Indian Food in the Flatiron at Indikitch
Fresh, Flavorful, & Spicy Chipotle-Style Indian Food in the Flatiron at Indikitch

Fresh, Flavorful, & Spicy Chipotle-Style Indian Food in the Flatiron at Indikitch

20140211_125614_editLast week, while walking across 23rd Street, I noticed a new addition to the Flatiron/Chelsea lunching landscape. Right next to Eataly, I spotted an enormous storefront window bearing the name Indikitch. After further examination, I learned that Indikitch would soon be open and I knew I had to check it out once it did.

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