Sitar Indian Cuisine9450 Scranton Road, Suite 114CSorrento Valley858-535-1941
The years that I spent working in an office park on Miramar Road were unpleasant for many reasons, but the food was a bright spot in an otherwise dull landscape. Food can't save everything, but lunch breaks help tremendously, and our office's proximity to the Indian restaurants nearby made for lunchtimes that made us forget where we were and what we were doing, even if only for an hour or so.
I don't miss much from those days, but I do miss being near all that food, and if Sitar Indian Cuisine had been open then, its loss would have been the one that I felt the most deeply. I first heard about the place from a friend at Qualcomm, whose corporate headquarters loom over the Sorrento Mesa plaza in which Sitar is located, in arguably the best food court in San Diego.
The diversity of the big corporation is reflected in the variety of cuisines found in the strip mall—there's Vietnamese, Afghani and even an outpost of the Asian vegetarian restaurant Sipz. But Sitar is my favorite vendor by far, turning out impressively prepared food in an impossibly small space and reinforcing my belief that fast food isn't always antithetical to good food.
Area office workers swarm the food court at lunch, and the longest line is invariably in front of Sitar's counter. Most order the lunch combos, which include an entrée and sides of dal (stewed lentils), fragrant basmati rice and creamy raita—yogurt with grated cucumbers—and a piece of naan bread.
I love the veggie options here, especially those that center on eggplant or paneer, a firm mild cheese. When I took a visiting vegetarian there recently, he ordered the daily special, an okra masala, and the okra was cooked perfectly, seared with a spice mix until smoky but still firm to the tooth.
Bori pakoras, fritters made from chickpea batter and assorted vegetables, like cauliflower and spinach, come with two delicious chutneys, one mint and one tamarind. The fritters are a bit heavy and dense—better are the vegetable samosas that look like they could be leaden and greasy but are actually flaky and crisp, with an excellent filling of caraway-seed-seasoned potatoes and raisins.
One of my beloved Indian dishes is biryani, melding my Asian-heritage's need for rice with my craving for heat. The spicy blend of cinnamon, cloves, saffron and chilies coats each fluffy grain, mixed in with chewy bits of coconut. I like the chicken version, but it also comes in shrimp, lamb and vegetable varieties.
The chicken tikka masala is popular, but I prefer my tandoori chicken straight up, marinated in yogurt, to tenderize it, and a host of spices that give it that signature orange-red hue. It's cooked, along with naan bread, in a traditional clay tandoor oven, which takes up a good portion of Sitar's tiny space and is a testament to their commitment to fresh and authentic food.
Mango lassi, a sweet fruity yogurt drink, cools you off between bites of the spicier dishes—the fat in the dairy breaks the bonds that capsaicin, the compound responsible for the heat in chilies, makes with nerve endings in your mouth.Sitar also excels in Southern Indian dishes, including dosas, a huge rice-and-lentil-batter crepe crisped on a griddle and wrapped around a delicious mix of potato cubes, onions and black mustard seeds. It's served with a side of coconut chutney and sambar, a vegetable stew. Other South Indian snacks, called chaat, are served on Saturdays and at the Saturday-night-only dinner buffet when the other vendors in the food court close for the day while Sitar sets up a delicious, carefully prepared spread in the communal seating area, turning the little eatery into a deserving stand-alone restaurant.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.