All India CafeAll India Cafe
39 S. Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 440-0309

View Map

On the Web:

Hours of Operation: Mon-Thu 11:30am-10:00pm / Fri-Sat 11:30am-11:00pm / Sun 11:30arn-10:00pm

All India Cafe

All India Cafe

All India Cafe
 "An unassuming" Indian that fans call the best in Pasadena, specializing in a fascinating and extensive menu of authentic dishes from all over the subcontinent, illuminated by waiters who take the time to describe the food to you; fans appreciate the full-flavored fare without the lead at this peaceful spot."

Zagat Survey 1999, Los Angeles/Southern California Restaurants

India is a large country, with many different cultures and culinary traditions. At All India Cafe, we offer specialties and recipes form these diverse regions. Authentic Indian home-style cooking uses only naturalAll India Cafe spices and ingredients. At All India Cafe, we do not add artificial colorings or preservative. As a result, we can offer many sumptuous dishes that are lean, healthful, and low in fat.

We offer daily specials which include a chicken curry of the day, a vegetable special, a lentil of the day, and rice of the day.

Whether entertaining a few friends or a party of hundreds, impress your guests with divine Indian cuisine by one of the most renowned chefs in Pasadena.



Sev Puri
Crisp home-made wafers topped with onions, potatoes, an assortment of chutneys, crisp noodles, and garnished with cilantro.
Bhel Puri
A medley of puffed rice, potatoes, onions, wafers, and chickpea crisp noodles, garnished with cilantro, three chutneys, and lime.
Dahi Potato Puri
Crisp balls stuffed with chick peas, potatoes, onions, home-made yogurt, and three chutneys.
Shrimp Chat
Marinated tiger shrimp tossed with puffed rice, potatoes, onion, waffers and chickpea crisp noodles with three chutneys, cilantro, and lime juice.
Aloo Tikki
Indian potato pancakes, topped with chopped onions, tamarind, and green chili chutney.
A popular griddle cake from Bombay, made from Cream of Wheat, tomatoes, onions, greens chilies, cilantro and  served with coconut chutney and sambar.
Mixed Chutneys
Three freshly made chutneys with home-made wheat flour chips.
The most popular snack throughout India. Vegetarian turnovers stuffed with potatoes, peas, spices, and herbs. Served with tamarind chutney.
Vegetarian Pakoras
Spinach, cauliflower, and potato fritters served with homemade sweet tomato chutney.
Onion Pakoras
Onion fritters seasoned with ginger and spices, served with homemade sweet tomato chutney.
Chicken Pakoras
Marinated all white chicken meat fritters served with homemade sweet tomato chutney.
Fish Pakoras
Fish of the day, lightly marinated, served with homemade sweet tomato chutney.
Shrimp Pakoras
Shrimp, marinated with ginger, green chili, and cilantro. Accompanied with a wedge of lime.


Chicken Curry Lunch
Chicken curry served with dal of the day basmati rice, naan and salad.
Lamb Curry Lunch
Lamb curry curry served with dal of the day basmati rice, naan and salad.
Tandoori Chicken Lunch
Tandoori murgh served with aloo mattar, dal of the day, basmati rice of the day, naan, and salad.
Chicken Tikka Lunch
Chicken served with aloo matter, dal of the day, basmati rice of the day, naan, and salad.
Kabab Launch
Choice of one: lamb botti kabab or sheesh kabab. Served with allo mattar, dal of the day, basmati rice of the day, naan and salad.
Chicken Tikka Masala Launch
Chicken tikka serverd with aloo mattar, dal of the day, basmati rice, naan and salad.
Lamb Masal Lunch
Lamb masala, served with aloo mattar, dal of the day, basmati rice, naan and salad.
Vegitable Lunch I
Choice of one: gobi aloo, palak aloo, baingan bharta, kabuli cholay or aloo matar. Served with dal of the day, basmati rice, naan and salad or raita
Vegetable Lunch II
Choice of one: shahi paneer, makhni paneer or palak paneer. Served with dal of the day, basmati rice, naan and salad or raita
Tandoori Chicken Salad Lunch
Tandoori chicken, mushrooms and paneer (home-made Indian cheese), on a bed of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, tossed in our home-made dressing, served with naan.
Shrimp or Fish Tandoori Salad Lunch
Marinated tandoori cooked black tiger shrimp or fresh fish of the day with mushrooms and paneer (home-made Indian cheese), on a bed of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, tossed in our home-made dressing, served with garlic naan.
Vegetarian Tandoori Salad Lunch
Mushrooms, paneer (home-made Indian cheese) and Japanese eggplant, on a bed of romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, tossed in our home-made dressing, served with naan.
Frankie Lunch
Choice of one: Chicken, lamb or gobi aloo frankie. Served with salad and raita.


Chicken Soup  
Chicken soup prepared with Basmati rice, spinach leaves, tomatoes, flavored with onion, ginger, garlic and spices, garnished with cilantro.
Vegetarian Soup 
Fresh vegetable soup prepared with spices and fresh basil.
South Indian lentil soup prepared with onions, tomatoes, and seasoned with spices and cilantro.
Tandoori Chicken Salad  
Tandoori chicken, mushrooms, and paneer (homemade Indian cheese), on a bed of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and tossed in our homemade dressing.
Shrimp or Fish Tandoori Salad  
Marinated tandoori cooked black tiger jumbo shrimp or fresh fish of the day with mushrooms and paneer (home-made Indian cheese) on a bed of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and onion, tossed in our home-made dressing.
Vegetarian Tandoori Salad  
Tandoori mushrooms, paneer (homemade Indian cheese), and eggplant, served on a bed of Romaine lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and tossed in our homemade dressing.
Eggplant Salad  
Sautéed Japanese eggplant topped with a seasoned tomato sauce and ginger yogurt.
Tossed Green Salad  
Fresh romaine lettuce and cucumber and tomatoes, tossed in our home-made dressing.


Vegetable of the Day  
Chef's choice of the day.
Mixed Vegetable  
Carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, and green peas sautéed with onions and ginger.
Baingan Bharta  
A puree of tandoori baked eggplant saut6ed with onions, fresh tomatoes, ginger, and green chili.
Gobi Aloo 
Cauliflower and potatoes saut6ed with tomatoes, ginger, green chili, ground coriander, turmeric, and cumin seeds.
Aloo Mattar  
Potatoes and green peas cooked in a homemade sauce prepared with tomatoes, ginger, green chilies, and herbs.
Palak Aloo 
Pureed spinach leaves and bite size potatoes, sau teed with onion ginger, green chili, and spices.
Makhni Paneer  
Sautéed paneer (homemade Indian cheese) and mushrooms cooked in a fresh tomato and saffron sauce.
Palak Paneer 
Pureed spinach leaves and paneer (homemade Indian cheese), saut6ed with onion ginger, green chili, and spices.
Shahi Paneer  
A favorite of the Punjab. Paneer (home-made Indian cheese) and nuts, cooked with fresh tomatoes, ginger, and garlic.
Kabuli Cholay  
Indian chickpeas prepared in the Punjabi style with onion, ginger, and tomatoes.
Chef s selection of dal (Indian lentil) of the day.


Cooked in an Indian oven on a skewer and served with marinated onion, mint chutney, wedge of lime and pickled vegetables on a sizzling platter.
Tandoori Chicken  
Half-chicken marinated overnight in a sauce made from homemade yogurt, fresh herbs, and spices.
Chicken Tikka 
Boneless pieces of chicken marinated in a homemade sauce made with cilantro, ginger, garlic, and spices.
Sheesh Kabab 
Lean ground lamb marinated in minced onion, green chili, and spices.
Boti Kabab 
Mildly marinated, very tender boneless pieces of lamb.
Fish Tikka 
Mildly marinated fresh fish of the day served with tomatoes and onions.
Tandoori Shrimp 
Mildly marinated black tiger jumbo shrimp .
Tandoori Platter  
An assortment of chicken tikka, tandoori chicken, sheesh kabab, and boti kabab. Served with naan.


Chicken Curry  
Boneless pieces of chicken prepared in a traditional sauce made from tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, and freshly ground spices.
Chicken Makhni  
Marinated tandoori cooked chicken, served in a tomato saffron sauce.
Lamb Makhni 
Marinated tandoori cooked lamb, served in a tomato saffron sauce.
Lamb Curry 
Boneless pieces of lamb prepared in a traditional sauce made from tomatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, and freshly ground spices.
Fish Curry Vinpallu (Spicy)
Fresh fish of the day, prepared with potato, onion, ginger, tomato, and lime juice.
Shrimp Curry Vinpallu (Spicy)  
Shrimp prepared with potato, onion, ginger, tomato, and lime juice.


Chicken Tikka Masala 
Tandoori cooked chicken served in a cream sauce made with onion, ginger, and fenugreek leaves.
Bombay Chicken  
Chicken, first poached with onion, ginger, green chilies and spices, then sautéed with dried mango powder, coriander, and cayenne.
Chicken Curry of the Day 
Chef s selection of the chicken of the day, prepared in a variety of ways.
Lamb Masala  
Tandoor cooked lamb served in a cream sauce made with onion, ginger and fenugreek leaves.
Shahi Machli  
Tandoori cooked fresh fish of the day, served in savory sauce made with onions, ginger, garlic, and fenugreek leaves.
Chicken Frankie  
Chicken masala cooked with fresh herbs and spices. Stuffed in a homemade tortilla with two chutneys and marinated onions. A favorite of Bombay.
Lamb Frankie  
Lamb masala cooked with onion, ginger, green chili, and fresh ground spices. Stuffed in a home-made tortilla with two chutneys and marinated onions.
Gobi Frankie 
Cauliflower and potatoes saut6ed with tomato, ginger, green chili, and spices. Stuffed in a homemade tortilla with two chutneys and marinated fresh onions.
Masala Dosa  
A South Indian crispy crepe, made with rice and lentil flour, filled with spiced potatoes, and served with Sambar (lentil soup), and coconut chutney.


Vegetarian Thali  
Your choice of two vegetables with rice, dal of the day, naan, and kachumber or raita.
Non Vegetarian Thali  
Your choice of chicken or lamb curry with aloo mattar, rice, dal of the day, naan, and kachumber or raita.
Tandoori Thali 
Your choice of chicken tikka or tandoori chicken, with aloo matter, basmati of the day, dal of the day, naan, and kachumber or raita.


Classic leavened bread made with white flour and baked in the tandoor.
Garlic Naan 
Naan topped with chopped garlic and cilantro, baked in the tandoor.
Onion Naan  
Naan stuffed with finely chopped onion and baked in the tandoor.
Lamb Naan  
Naan stuffed with minced lamb, finely chopped onion, and cilantro, baked in the tandoor and served with fruit chutney.
Chicken Naan  
Naan stuffed with tandoor cooked marinated chicken and served with fruit chutney.
Aloo Paratha  
Whole wheat unleavened bread filled with spiced mashed potatoes, cooked in the tandoor. Served with fruit chutney.
Multi-layered whole wheat bread baked in the tandoor.
Tandoori Roti 
Whole wheat unleavened bread cooked in the tandoor.
Whole wheat unleavened bread cooked on an iron griddle and finished on an open flame.
Basmati Rice  
Grown in the foothills of the Himalayas. To maintain its natural aroma and flavor, we serve it simply steamed.
Basmati of the Day  
Basmati rice prepared with chef s selection of fresh vegetables and saffron.


Chopped cucumber, red onions, fresh tomatoes, and cilantro, with a splash of lime juice.
Home-made yogurt with grated cucumber and onions.
Your choice of one chutney from a variety of fresh home-made  Indian dips.
A variety of Indian vegetable pickles.
Lentil Pappard  
Crackers made from stone ground lentils, flavored with spices, and baked in the tandoor.


Indian rice pudding made in the traditional way with a flavor of green cardamon.
Gaajar Halwa  
Carrot pudding made with carrots, golden raisins, and almonds.
Gulab Jaamun  
Milk balls, served in a rose flavored syrup.
Three mouth-watering flavors of home-made Indian ice cream: mango or ginger or pistachio.
Lime-Mint Sorbet  
Sorbet made from freshly squeezed lime juice and mint leaves.


Nimbu Paani 
Homemade lemonade, made Indian style with fresh ginger and fresh lime juice.
Mango Lassi 
Homemade yogurt and mango shake.
Sweet Lassi  
Sweet drink made from homemade yogurt and Rose water.
Masala Lassi  
Mildly spiced, salty drink made from homemade yogurt.
Indian Chai 
Indian hot tea made with milk and spices.
Indian Iced Tea 
Mint flavored Indian tea served with sweet milk.
Ginger Brew 
Honey sweeted Jamaican style ginger beer














Himalayan Blue Lager 22oz. $6.75
Taj Mahal Premium Lager 22oz. $6.75
Flying Horse Royal Lager 22oz. $6.75
Kingfisher Lager Premium Lager
Golden Eagle Lager
Dansberg Premium Lager
Maharaja Pilsner
Amstel Light $3.95
Non-Alcoholic Beer $3.95
Chardonnay Maddalena "Central Coast" $20.00
Chardonnay Joseph Drouhin La Foret, France $22.00
Chardonnay Jacques de Coninck, Napa $42.00
Chardonnay San Simeon, Monterey $26.00
Sauvignon Blanc Jepson, Mendocino
Sauvignon Blanc Ch. Grand Perreau, Bordeaux
Pinot Giris, Foris Winery, Oregon
Gewurztraminer, Foris Winery, Oregon
Gewurztraminer Dopff & Irion , Alsace
Viognier, Castoro Cellars, Paso Robles
White Zinfandel Maddalena "Central Coast" $18.00
Sparkling Wine Jepson Blanc de Blanc, Mendocino $28.00


Pinot Noir San Simeon, Monterey $28.00
Pinot Noir St. Gregory, Mendocino $30.00
Pinot Noir Domaine Drouhin , Oregon $48.00
Zinfandel Castoro, Paso Robles $32.00
Zinfandel Dashe Cellers, Dry Creek Valley $38.00
Merlot Kinderwood Reserve $20.00
Merlot San Simeon, Central Coast, Maddalena Vineyards $33.00
Cabernet Sauvignon Maddalena "Central Coast" $22.00
Cabernet Sauvignon Ch Anglade Bellevue, Bordeaux $26.00
Cabernet Sauvignon Beaucanon, Reserve, Napa $35.00
Cabernet Sauvignon Los Boldos, Reserve, Chile $18.00

All substitutions gladly made, minimum substitution charge is $1.50


Spices of Life
All India Cafe in Pasadena is more than all right.


Tucked in a small storefront on Fair Oaks Avenue, just off Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, All India Cafe may be difficult to spot from the road. But to strollers ambling by, the enticing scent of fresh-ground spices wafting out the door makes this casual little cafe hard to resist.
    The chef-owner is Santokh Singh, former chef at Bombay Cafe in Santa Monica. From the small open kitchen, Singh is turning out vibrant homemade chutneys, crisp golden samosas, enticing Indian street snacks and dishes like Bombay chicken (poached in spices, then sautéed in mango powder and Chile, so the flavor goes all the way to the bone) and lamb frankies (sort of an Indian burrito filled with a complexly spiced lamb masala). His bhel puri a snack of puffed rice., potatoes, onions and crisp  broken noodles tossed with chutneys and lime, is terrific-sour and hot and crisp all at the same time. I like the tikka masala, too, tender morsels of tandoor-cooked chicken in a sumptuous sauce of tomato and yogurt perfumed with ginger and fenugreek leaves. That dish alone is enough to make me want to eat my way through the rest of the menu. 
    For dessert, he makes a fabulous kulfi, Indian ice cream flavored with pistachios and cardamom, and a startlingly delicious fresh ginger ice cream. Oh, and a wonderful soupy rice pudding infused with green cardamom.
    If only I lived a little closer.


Some diners like it hot, hot, hot
Dining out with Merrill Shindler - Cheers!

I am married to a woman who shrieks and gasps when confronted with spicy food. In restaurants where dishes have a penchant for being hot, she has me taste the food first. The problem is that I have a ridiculously high tolerance for things peppery.
    So as a rule, I'll taste something, tell her it's not so spicy' and then watch as she runs around the room like some sort of cartoon character with smoke coming out of its extremities while it sucks down gallons of water. My wife may not like her dishes hot, but I sure do. Variety may be the spice of life, but for me spice gives variety to food.
    Perhaps because the weather been so unseasonably hot I've been in the mood for some serious spice. And I found it, in two of our most reliably spicy cuisines - the always fiery pillar and post of Indian and Mexican.

Old India hands will know their way around the various tandooris, the multitude of vegetarian dishes (the kabuli cholay from the Pun jab takes chickpeas to a surprisingly high level of incarnation), and the sundry thali (combinations served in small bowls). [....]

    The All India Cafe, which sits south of Colorado in the midst of Old Town Pasadena, is an optimistically named enterprise with dishes that touch on many regions of India, though I suspect including dishes from all of India would involve creating an encyclopedic menu, marking cooking of Gujarat from Saraswat and of Haryana from Rajasthan.
    But many of the major regions are covered here - the Mogul cooking of the north, the vegetarian cooking of the south, the panirs and dals, of the east, and the sweet dishes of the west.
    The various puns appear an the appetizer section of the menu, which has enough distinctive dishes to make a meal of nothing but appetizers (along with some breads and condiments) a perfectly decent notion. Puri usually refers to whole wheat puffed bread . But in this case, it seems to mean any bread that's been puffed.
    Sev puri is a rather madcap mix of crunchy wafers mixed with onions, potatoes, noodles, chutney and cilantro - a sort of Indian bridge mix. Bhel puri is similar, with the addition of puffed rice and lime juice.
    The puris go well aloo tikki, a potato pancake flavored with onions and tamarind sauce. There's also uttapam, a dish that's ubiquitous in the markets of Bombay, a griddle cake of creamed wheat, flavored with tomatoes, onions and cilantro.

Like Jozu and Yujean Kang's, Pasadena's All India Cafe does wondrous things with eggplant, a vegetable that has been cultivated in Southeast Asia for thousands of years. Take the "eggplant salad" at Pasadena's All India Cafe, so easy to overlook among the alluring samosas, pakoras, and tandoori specialties. As the menu explains, it is "sautéed Japanese eggplant topped with a seasoned tomato sauce and ginger yogurt." But however you imagine that might taste, it doesn't prepare you for the mouth-warming, head-spinning sting of ginger and garlic and the richness of the tomato sauce with its musky kari leaves. Ginger and tomato also figure in the smoky baigan bharta, a puree of tandoor-charred eggplant-no less delicious, but different. And so the menu goes, surprising us even with so mundane a food as puréed spinach, which, studded with potatoes or the fresh homemade cheese called paneer, would captivate the most rebellious child. Such is the magic of spices. Eating the food of sorcerer Santokh Singh at his new café, you understand why Indian cooking is as much alchemy as art.

    The only comparable Indian restaurant in the city is the Westside's Bombay Cafe, where Singh was chef for seven years. He cooks more curries here-"the home-style dishes you can cat every day," he explains-and he prefers a "normal" heat level so that fire doesn't extinguish flavor. After all, it isn't it scared mouth you want to remember front an Indian meal but the way the tastes and textures play off one another, and ordering wisely takes some thought. One day our waiter (most likely one of Singh's relatives, as it is a family-run business) was quick to note that we'd chosen "everything dry, nothing wet," a mistake quickly rectified with chicken makhni robed in a saffron tomato sauce so good that we carne close to scrapping over the last drop. Hot from the tan door, naan sprinkled with garlic and coriander is a must, and, though fresh chutneys of coconut, mango, tomato, tamarind, and mint arrive with various dishes,  even an extra order never seems to be enough. To drink? Indian beers, Alderbrook  Gewurztraminer or Chardonnay, spiced and iced Indian tea, and various yogurt-based lassis.
    As At Bombay Cafe, the favorite starters are the Indian street-food snacks. You eat sev poori in one bite, picking up a crisp homemade cracker heaped with Chutney-laced potatoes, coriander, and crisp chick-pea-flour noodles. Bhelpoori is the same idea but with puffed basmati rice. Shrimp pakora with a gossamer rice coating and potato- and pea-filled samosas are notably light. And there are interesting pancakes-the cream-of-wheat with uttapam with a lively medley of tomatoes and onions; the crisp potato-filled masala dosa (made with rice and lentil flour), a ideal in itself with a bowl of lentil soup. Everyone falls for the lamb "frankie" a terrific tortilla-wrapped lamb masala. 
    The tandorri meats (lamb boti kebab is irresistible) are predictably first-rate. But the sleeper is Singh's Bombay chicken, poached with a dozen or so spices, then sautéed with several more (including powdered sun-dried green mango added at the last moment) that penetrate the meat to the bone.
    We'd be reciting a different nursery rhyme if Mary Jane had tasted the creamy rice pudding scented with green cardamom and, for variety's sake, the warm pudding of grated carrot, raisins, and almonds. We'd all cry for the mango, ginger, or pistachio kulfi (Indian ice cream) that so deliciously cools the throat.

Ghee West
Nouvelle Indian in Pasadena


Bombay Cafe, an insanely popular restaurant in a Westside mini-mall, changed the way a lot of Angelenos think about Indian cuisine. Some food guys even think Bombay Cafe did for Indian food what Spago did for Mediterranean Cooking: modernized it, intensified the flavors, introduced California-style ingredient fetishes to a cuisine traditionally, more involved with the complexity of spicing than with the provenance of the vegetables. Bombay Cafe's cooking is undeniably lighter than what you find at the ghee-soaked "authentic" places in Artesia and Cerritos. Many people though there are in consider it the few Indians among the best Indian restaurant in Los Angeles.
    Now there is All India Cafe, a new Bombay Cafe spinoff in the most restaurant-intensive corner of old Town Pasadena a spare, handsome storefront decorated with Indian textiles and plants. Ali India Cafe is already crowded most of the time, with engineering executives afternoons and date-night couples in the evening; the $4.95 lunch specials sometimes see lines snaking out the door.
    The conceit here is that the restaurant Serves dishes from each of the regions of India - tandoori meats from the north and dosas front the south; Gujarati salads and Bombay-style uttapam - filtered through the soft-focus lens of the All India kitchen and washed with sweet chutneys and herb. But Indian cooking is one of the most intensely regional on earth, and expecting a chef to master the dishes of all the country Is regions is like expecting a European chef to be equally fluent with peppery Sicilian pastas and sott Belgian senpfeffer and bouillabaisse.
    Masala dosa, for example, probably the best-known of the vegetarian dishes of South India and the house specialty of every Indian sweet shop in town, is kind of a washout here. The fermented-rice crepe, the dosa, should be thin as a sheet of parchment, with a pressed sheen and a definite crackle, but All India's version is as stodgy , is a Bisquick hotcake; the spiced potato filling is pallid; the lentil sambhar, which is to south Indian pancakes what maple syrup is to American ones, is soothing and hearty rather than thin and ferociously spiced. The masala dosa isn't bad at All India - if you've never had a proper version of the dish it might strike you as a brilliant take on the form of a veggie burrito - but it has few of the textural contrasts that make masala dosa potentially one of the world's greatest dishes.
    Bhel Puri, the famous Gujarati snack of toasted grains, comes across here more or less as an exotically spiced CrisPix Mix tossed with chutney, cilantro and chopped onion; sev  puri throws a handful of  Wheat Thins into the Mix. The famous Punjabi dish of puréed spinach with fresh Indian cheese seemed wan, without the developed flavor that can sometimes send the dish over the top. (Shahi paneer, on the other hand, the same cheese cooked in a gentle sauce of spices and peanut butter, is swell.)
    Tandoor-baked breads, various naans and parathas and chapatis, have been limp and bland, something I might not have noticed if I hadn't been eating a lot lately at Muslim restaurants specializing in the clay-oven breads, which are best when they are crisp and sizzling with smoky flavor. Tandoor-cooked meats were mostly mushy, overmarinated, though for some reason they seemed to come out better on the tandoori combination plate than they did individually, and the lamb, moist and crusted with spice, is really fine.
    But All India is usually at its best when you bring the fewest preconceptions to the table, when the food least resembles its regional roots. The restaurant s signature dish is probably the "frankie," a Bombay street snack that Bombay Cafe brought to California and perfected - sort of a thick flour tortilla with an egg sizzled onto it, wrapped around a filling of sweet, tamarind - laced lamb, stewed chicken or fried cauliflower. A frankie and a bottle of beer  you couldn't ask for a better lunch. I like the Bombay chicken, which could break through as an Indian - spiced analogue to, say, kung - pao chicken without the nuts. Tikka masala, boneless bits of chicken drowned in fenugreek - flavored cream, is the sort of thing a Chasen's chef might have come up with on a good day in 1956. 
    It's a pleasant place to be, the All India Cafe, the sitar music low enough to talk over, the service prompt, the general vibe relaxed . (The waiters are great with kids -  you try explaining to a 2-year-old that garlic naan is really, just pizza.) in addition to the thick, sweet lassis you might expect at any decent Indian restaurant, there are sharp homemade lemonade, pungent Indian iced tea, and big bottles of Taj Mahal beer, which has a smokiness you might associate with a decent Islay Scotch. All India understands.

More Than Currying Favor
Chef Santokh Singh has surfaced in Pasadena, where he is reworking his magic at the All India Cafe.



Sometimes, you've just got to rave. An inconspicuous Pasadena spot with the nothing name All India Cafe is one of the two best Indian restaurants to open in years.
    In the last eight years, to be exact, because the other was Bombay Cafe over on the Westside in Sawtelle, where All India's chef, Santokh Singh, used to work. So the news here is really the same news as at Bombay Cafe (the menus are just about identical): Instead of the heavy, repetitiously spiced Mughlai curries served in most Indian restaurants, All India has light, crunchy snacks and brightly flavored dishes you can actually tell apart.
    This is a modest place - despite several visits, I have no memory at all of what it looks like - but the food is classy.  At most of our Indian restaurants, you'd never know that saffron is a traditional Indian spice, but All India is generous with it. The buttery tomato sauce on the chicken makhni had so much saffron aroma I found myself vaguely thinking of it as a French or Italian seafood dish.
    You definitely want to start with appetizers here. The two snappiest ones build on crisp little wafers topped with potato chunks mixed with a couple of chutneys (tamarind flavor predominating). Sev puri crowns this with orange fried vermicelli made from chickpea flour, bhel puii with a mound of puffed rice. Sev puri is handsomer and wins in the crunchiness category, but bhel puri seems to be the one people can't stop eating.
    The other appetizers (apart from the only mildly interesting potato pancakes called aloo tikki and uttapam, a sort of chewy South Indian pizza served with coconut chutney) are the familiar potato - stuffed samosa and deep - fried vegetable pakoras. The onion pakora is a good one, though. Think of Tony Roma's fried onions accompanied by a sweet tomato sauce spiked with turmeric.
    There are tandoori entrees, naturally, and they're good and charcoaly (the chicken tikka particularly so, and for once the tandoori chicken is not dyed red with beet juice). There's a spice - crusted shish kebab and a tandoori platter with three kinds of meat. You can get chicken on a thali platter, that shiny metal Indian TV dinner tray, with lentils, cucumber salad, vegetables and tandoori bread.
But this is one place where the non - tandoori entrees are even more tempting. The "frankies," for instance: curried lamb, chicken or cauliflower, rolled up in a flour tortilla, burrito fashion, and garnished with crisp, brightly colored chunks of pickled carrots and cauliflower.
    Tikka masala is one of several dishes that are cooked in the tandoor and then, stewed in a spicy sauce, in this case a cream sauce. It's the closest thing here to the usual Mughlai curry, but the spicing is a bit more lively. There are straightforward curries, and good ones. Ask for them hot, by the way, and the kitchen complies enthusiastically (a good argument for ordering one of those 22 - ounce bottles of Indian beer).
    The curry of the day is always worth investigating. One day it was chicken dhansak, a variation on that cliché of the London - style Indian menu, lamb dhansak: meat stewed with lentils and vegetables. It was a little on the sweet side but lighter on its feet than most dhansaks.

     For my money, the best thing here is Bombay chicken, which started showing up at Bombay Cafe as a special a couple of years ago. The chicken is poached with onions and spices and then stir - fried with mango powder, coriander and cayenne. (This much the menu admits, but it doesn't explain a sweet aroma like coconut.) It's a fascinating dish, more tender than tandoori chicken, more fragrant than a curry.
    There's a large selection of tandoor breads, of course, including a version that encloses a thin patty of spicy ground lamb. It's worth ordering a selection of the fresh - tasting sweet chutneys (the mango, mixed fruit and coconut varieties are more vivid than the tomato chutney)?
    Instead of the usual heavy Indian sweets based on ultra - condensed milk and syrup, the dessert menu limits itself to kulfi, kheer and gajar halwa. These translate as ice cream, rice pudding and carrot pudding, but only the ice cream is what you expect. You have a choice of pistachio (very rich, flavored with cardamom), ginger (fairly intense) and mango (real fruit flavor) kultis.
    The rice pudding is like a bowl of sweetened cream with cardamom and ground rice in it - a surprisingly light and clean - tasting kheer. And gajar halwa, usually a heavy, buttery carrot paste, is light, crumbly and not too sweet, with a lively citrus aroma.
This may not be news in Sawtelle, but it is in Pasadena, and in fact nearly everywhere else.