Aug. 22 2014 02:57 PM

Small Encinitas outpost is tops at the exotic and the more familiar

KCs Tandoor
Photo by Jenny Montgomery

For such a sprawling swath of real estate that encompasses what's called "North County," there's a surprising dearth of decent Indian restaurants. Sure, there are a handful of run-of-the-mill buffets, but fewer places with expansive menus worthy of deeper exploration. Fortunately, I found KC's Tandoor in Encinitas, and it might just become my go-to place for a little taste of the Subcontinent.

What started as a successful catering business is now a shiny little nook tucked down in a shopping center off of El Camino Real (1070 N. El Camino Real, Suite A). What's lacking in foot traffic is hopefully made up for by local word of mouth.

I don't normally go for Tandoori chicken—not because I have anything against it, but because it's everywhere and mostly the same wherever you go. But, hey, I have a 2-year-old who's got to eat and she likes the kooky-colored, lemony bird. KC's charges a buck extra for white meat, so keep that in mind. The chicken doesn't rewrite the script, but it's juicy and tasty and just what you want.

Dig a little deeper, though, and check out some of the Southern Indian specialties. I dived into a bowl of curried coconut shrimp, soaking up the complex mix of sweet and savory with dosa, an enormous, thin pancake made from fermented rice and lentil batter. Thinner and crispier than the ubiquitous naan, dosa has a bit of tang and a delicacy that's addictive.

On the slightly more familiar tip, I see myself returning for the simple pleasure of the butter paneer tikka masala. Even the most voracious of meat eaters has to appreciate the salty yum of paneer—cubes of cheese that happily swim in a vibrant red sauce. My wimpy tongue asked for the mildest version, but I still felt a lot of heat, so you spice lovers will be delighted.

Maybe it's because I'm weeks away from giving birth and I've apparently entered a cravings phase, but my normally moderate sweet tooth cannot be stopped. That's why I was in Heaven tucking into a small serving of hot, milky balls called gulab jamun. The warm, creamy spheres of sweet milk paste come immersed in simple syrup laden with the exotic flavor of rose water. It's a small bit of dessert, but for less than $2 a serving, it packs a creamy, intensely sugary hit that tastes unique and special.

I encountered a few service hiccups during my visits—like cashiers not always being completely familiar with menu items, or certain things being unavailable—but, overall, I found this little strip-mall treasure to be a wonderful and refreshing find. On one visit, the owner was there, and she couldn't have been more accommodating. She even noticed that I'd dropped my plastic fork on the ground and, unaware that I heartily embrace germs, immediately brought me a basket of fresh flatware to choose from.

I'll keep searching for more surprising and unexpected finds when it comes to Indian food, but, for now, KC's Tandoor is tops for me in the top of the county.

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