Before the Tenderloin became the Tandoorloin a decade ago, Indian food in San Francisco was a restrained, almost elegant affair. Linens and goblets, muted sauces, rather doctrinaire menus of tandoori chicken and mixed vegetable sabzi. A wave of cheap, grotty, chile-strewing Pakistani chains -- Shalimar, Pakwan, Naan 'n' Curry -- changed all that. And so did the later arrival of high-end restaurants that didn't sacrifice flavor in the name of class. San Francisco's desi food still can't top the South Bay's, but now we're eating much, much better. Here are SFoodie's favorites:
5. Udupi Palace
The quality of this South Indian chain varies from location to location, but the Valencia Street branch is one of the good'uns. The kitchen produces rava (semolina) dosas so lacy they look tatted, crisp vadas (lentil doughnuts) made for swabbing in coconut chutney, and a South Indian thali with at least a dozen different components, the silvery platter sending up aromas of curry leaves, mustard seeds, and cardamom. Order the restaurant's paper dosa, which looks like the world's biggest blunt, and you'll attract the stares of everyone else in the room. If you're into that sort of thing, of course.