Marin’s Indian restaurants reviewed by an actual desi girl by Saamya mungamuru

When I moved to Marin County, California from Asia at the age of 12, I experienced a massive, unforgiving culture shock. Everything was new, from smaller aspects like the roads and the weather, to bigger things—the people, their foreign accent and slang, the difference between the color of their skin and mine. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I have received to move around the world and live among different cultures; however, those initial months after moving to America were daunting and lonely. I searched desperately for even a morsel of familiarity that could connect me to my home—India—and finally found comfort in Indian food, deliciously prepared at some of the best restaurants in Marin. Five years later, my anxiety and apprehension about life in America have faded, but my love for exploring Indian food at local restaurants has not. So, whether you love Indian food and are scoping out your options, or simply curious about what an Indian person thinks about the Indian food in Marin, here’s a five-star review of three of Marin’s Indian restaurants.

Sartaj Indian Cafe: 4.5/5

SARTAJ INDIAN CAFE: Burrowed in the streets of Sausalito’s quaint downtown, Sartaj Indian Cafe is truly a hidden gem. Run by a cheerful Punjabi couple, Balbir and Basi, this tiny, bustling cafe is essentially a mom-and-pop shop, giving the restaurant a personal, homey feel that is missing at bigger, more upscale establishments.

Upon walking into the little space, I saw walls and windows painted in bright green and red, adorned with adorable little pictures and posters. My favorite one was a painted sign sternly admonishing customers against putting their feet up on the couches—it reminded me of the rules my grandmother had for us kids whenever we would eat at her house back in India. Above their kitchen, there were blackboards with daily specials written on them in colorful chalk. I was amused to see that all of their menu items were named after loyal customers, from the “Jeff and Julia Special Saag Paneer,” to “Barbara and Peter Special Dhal.” Just from these minute details, it was clear to me how much Sartaj cares about its customers and works to build lasting, personal relationships with members of the community.

Sartaj's aloo paratha, a potato-stuffed buttery bread pancake, melted in my mouth, made me feel like I was in Punjab.

If the wonderfully comfortable ambiance doesn’t make you feel at home right away, it’s the food that will win your heart. Being a potato lover, I ordered the world-famous Punjabi classic dish, aloo paratha. Aloo paratha is a buttery, flaky whole wheat bread pancake, stuffed to maximum capacity with deliciously seasoned potatoes, coriander and Indian spices, served with a side of Indian pickles. Sartaj’s aloo paratha transported me straight to Punjab with its authentic preparation and irresistible flavor. Served steaming hot, fresh off the tava, each bite of the paratha was so buttery that it melted straight onto my tongue, the different spices and seasoning washing over my palate.

Though the parathas can certainly be eaten on their own, I also ordered saag paneer, a spinach and Indian cottage cheese curry, for accompaniment. The curry had a milder, creamier taste, a perfect complement to the spicy paratha. The flavors from the two dishes balanced each other out so perfectly that I reached food nirvana. For dessert, I ordered another classic Punjabi item, mango lassi, which served as the finishing touch on an immensely satisfying meal.

Despite the long wait time, the creamy saag paneer paired with the crispy aloo paratha make a visit to the restaurant worth it.

My only criticism of Sartaj is their extremely long wait time. Due to its small scale, all of the cooking is done by just Balbir and her assistant, which results in painfully long preparation time for orders, especially when the restaurant is busy. Secondly, due to the limited space in the restaurant, there is not enough seating to accommodate large numbers of guests, causing some to leave at the door. While these two constraints can be frustrating if you are planning to bring a big group or are tight on time, the food makes it 100 percent worth it. Take my word for it—the next time you find yourself in Sausalito with a little extra time, don’t leave without trying Sartaj.

Taj of Marin: 2.5/5

TAJ OF MARIN: Taj of Marin, located on Fourth Street in Downtown San Rafael, promises to offer “the most exquisite and authentic Indian cuisine in the North Bay,” according to their website. However, following a lunchtime visit to the joint, I was disappointed when my dining experience did not reflect these lofty claims.

With a decorative ambiance and Bollywood music playing in the background, the interior of the restaurant provided a festive and fairly welcoming atmosphere. In order to taste several items on their menu, I decided to try their daily all-you-can-eat lunchtime buffet, offered between 11:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., a usually busy time due to the popularity of the buffet menu. I was pleasantly surprised to see both North Indian and South Indian varieties offered in the buffet, as I have found that Indian restaurants in Marin tend to lean heavily toward North Indian cuisine.

Taj of Marin's lunchtime all-you-can-eat-buffet offered both North and South Indian varieties. On the North Indian side, they had saag and cauliflower curries as well as biryani rice.

On the North Indian side, they had classic entrees such as the rich black lentil dal makhani, a creamy spinach and potato aloo palak curry and channa masala, a spicy chickpea and gravy curry. Their vegetarian and vegan options were plentiful, which, as a vegetarian, is one of my favorite aspects of Indian cuisine. The numerous vegetarian dishes pack as much of a flavorful punch as their non-vegetarian counterparts. For meat lovers, the buffet offered three popular non-vegetarian entrees, including lamb curry, tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala, to be eaten with plain or biryani rice, or with the unlimited naan bread brought individually to each table.

On the South Indian side, they had dosas, spicy crisp lentil crepes, which are among my favorite foods of all time, accompanied by spicy lentil soup known as sambar. The buffet also had little round uttapams, steamed lentil-rice pancakes and potato curry. However, my excitement quickly faded when I sat down to dig into my meal.

Taj's South Indian food fell short, as their dosas and utthapams were cold and tough to chew as opposed to hot and crisp.

While the North Indian curries had mediocre texture and flavor, the South Indian foods were barely edible. The dosas, meant to be served hot and crispy, were cold, soggy and stuck together. The uttapams, steamed rice pancakes, were extremely tough and chewy, and the spices tasted amiss. The food was so bad that I couldn’t manage to get through it, so I was forced to limit myself to the slightly better-tasting, lentil and spinach curries.

Although the food was subpar, the different varieties available in the buffet made for a colorful plate.

While I commend Taj of Marin for integrating several diverse varieties into their buffet menu, they fell short in terms of taste, which after all is the main determinant of a restaurant’s merit. Taj was a definite let down, especially in comparison to its fellow Fourth Street competitor, Lotus. If you’re looking for a truly authentic Indian dining experience, Taj of Marin is not the place for you.

Lotus Cuisine of India: 5/5

LOTUS CUISINE OF INDIA: Another Fourth Street restaurant, Lotus is my family’s go-to place for getting takeout dinners, and the food is almost always underwhelming. For this reason, I had quite low expectations going into the restaurant in person for my review—but boy did they prove me wrong. As I walked into the restaurant, I was greeted with relaxing, soft Indian classical music and an extremely friendly host who seated me in a comfortable, secluded area that was a nice distance from the busier and noisier section of the restaurant.

As I surveyed the room, I could already see distinct differences between Lotus and Taj of Marin; the subtler music and dim lighting already gave Lotus a classier feel. It was also more spacious and airy and allowed me to truly unwind and enjoy a fine-dining experience. The room I was seated in had walls painted in the saffron, white and green colors of the Indian flag, and had beautiful paintings depicting scenes from Hindu mythology, giving the restaurant a very unique and authentic feel.

To start off my meal, I ordered samosas, a popular appetizer at Indian restaurants and available as street food in India. They are made of a fried batter stuffed with spicy potatoes and peas and served with sweet and tangy tamarind sauce as well as a mint chutney. The samosas were perfectly crisp and hot, and the fried outer crust and soft inner stuffing made for an incredibly satisfying appetizer, making me eager to try the main course.

The hot, delicious samosas packed with flavor were the perfect start to an even more satisfying main course.

For the main course, I ordered three vegetarian entree items–dal makhani, saag paneer and baingan bhartha, which are black lentil, spinach and eggplant curries, respectively. For accompaniment, I ordered aloo naan, a leavened bread stuffed with potato, peas and spices. The naan was buttery and similar to the samosas, a little crisp and well-cooked externally, but warm and soft on the inside. The curries were rich and packed with masala, and allowed me to experience the full extent of Indian cuisine in just one dinner.

Along with the buttery aloo naan, the curries were rich and creamy.

Additionally, my favorite aspect of the restaurant other than the delectable food was the warm and attentive staff. There was always a group of waiters ready right around the corner, who kept checking on me and filling up my water throughout my meal, making me feel extremely valued and respected as a guest. Due to the large space, friendly staff and incredible food, Lotus scores the highest marks out of all three restaurants as they hit it out of the park in all the different areas. If you are looking for a restaurant to host a dinner party or simply want to enjoy the best Indian food in Marin, look no further than Lotus Cuisine of India.

Created By
Saamya Mungamuru

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.