Hidden in plain sight: Indian cuisine at Malabari Kitchen, Winner, and Hot Indian Foods

A tiny storefront without a sign. A food truck. A gas station. Indian cuisine is showing up in unexpected places.

The Malabari Kitchen has been in operation since last December, in the tiny storefront previously occupied, in quick succession, by Korean, Thai, and multi-ethnic Southeast Asian restaurants. There's no sign above the door, just an awning that says Asia Kitchen, left behind by the previous tenant. And even if you do discover the true name of the restaurant, unless you are a geography major or a serious foodie, you might not know what kind of cuisine to expect. The Malabar coast is the legendary spice coast of southern India, from whose ports traders have exported cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and more for centuries. 

The cuisine of the Malabar coast is rich with those spices, as are the dishes on the Malabari Kitchen menu. I've only sampled a few so far, including the palappam (lacy rice flour pancakes) with egg curry ($9.25), and rich curries made with shrimp in a creamy coconut sauce ($12.50);  mahi mahi in a fiery tomato-based sauce ($11.50); and a daily special of fried fish with Indian spices ($5.99), accompanied by a lentil curry ($6.99).

Owners Biju Meethaleveedu and Bindhu Sankar are natives of Kerala, the south Indian state that includes much of the Malabar coast. Biju is the host, server and cashier, while Bindhu runs the kitchen. Biju is an engaging storyteller, happy to talk about Kerala's culture and  culinary traditions. Both work in the healing arts; Bubdhu is a nurse and critical care manager at a local hospital, while Biju operates the Nourish Veda massage studio in New Prague, specializing in Western and Ayurvedic massage. 

A word of warning: the restaurant and its kitchen are tiny, and everything is cooked to order, so when the dining room is crowded, you may face a wait—but it's well worth it.

Hot Indian Foods owner Amol Dixit

Finding the Malabari Kitchen is easy, once you know where to look. To find Hot Indian Foods, the Twin Cities first Indian food truck, you will have to first look online to see where the mobile kitchen will be parked today. I happened to find the truck parked outside of the Fulton Tap Room, where they make occasional appearances, but they are apt to show up anywhere from the North Loop to the Linden Hills Farmers Market.

I had just eaten when I discovered the truck, so I didn't have much of an appetite, but Hot Indian Foods executive chef Janene Holig coaxed me into trying some of the fillings for their signature Indurritos (Indian-style burritos), which include lamb, chicken tikka masala and spinach paneer—all very tasty. (Who knew that food trucks have executive chefs?)

I'm eager to go back and try a whole Indirrito—maybe even this Wednesday (June 5), when they will be at 700 N. Washington in the North Loop. 

Chef Fazal Mahmoud at Winner gas station

Chef Fazal Mahmoud at Winner

You could drive past the Winner gas station at 3333 Cedar Ave. S. a thousand times and never get the slightest indication that they have Indian food for sale inside. I only chanced to find out because I was at a beginners old time music jam at the Blackbird Music store, and happened to ask the jam leader where she got the samosas that she was eating from a takeout container.  

The gas station is only a block away from the music store, so as soon as the jam was over, I headed over to Winner, and discovered that they do indeed offer Indian food—one entree per day, plus samosas (deep-fried pockets stuffed with spiced minced beef and onions; $2 apiece or two for $3). Chef Fazal Mahmoud is actually from Pakistan, but the cuisine is Punjabi, from a region that includes parts of India and Pakistan. The entree of the day when I visited was chicken jalfrezi, stir-fried with peppers and onions ($8.99, including basmati rice and a can of pop.) Chef Fazal Mahmoud's other daily specials include chicken curry, goat curry and chicken makhani. The specials are made fresh daily—not, as one of the crew pointed out, like some Indian restaurants, where they make a big batch of each dish at the beginning of the week and serve it all week. They are available starting at noon daily, and "when it's gone, it's gone." For diners with less adventuresome palates, other options include burgers, gyros and fried chicken. 

Winner's chicken jalfrezi unboxed

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.

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Jeremy Iggers's picture
Jeremy Iggers

Jeremy Iggers (jeremy [at] tcmediaalliance [dot] org) is the executive director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance. Find Jeremy on Google