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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Curry in your quesadilla? You must be at dining at Cowboys & Turbans

Story and photos by Valentina Silva

Even though I grew up very close to Artesia, an epicenter of Indian restaurants and shops in Los Angeles, I didn’t try Indian food until college. Not really knowing what to expect, when I finally did feast on my first meal of chicken tikka masala and aloo gobi, I was surprised at how much the meaty stew and hearty vegetable dish reminded me of my grandmother’s cooking. And she’s Mexican.

Enter Cowboys & Turbans, Silver Lake’s year-old “Indian Mexican Street Food” joint. Relocated from its former Miracle Mile home on Wilshire Boulevard, the Silver Lake strip mall restaurant is the brainchild of Baba Ji, the man behind Electric Lotus and Electric Karma. And while some may have had it with the whole fusion thing, Cowboys & Turbans’ tandoori burritos and tacos are an interesting entry into L.A.’s most enduring food trend. They even offer a few naan pizzas to add to the cultural confusion.

Our entrée into this strange new world started with the Aloo Gobi Quesadilla. The portion was large, almost giant. My dining companion found the melding of mozzarella (again with the Italian!) and Indian spices a little startling, but I found the (albeit strange) mix rather pleasing. It works because the cheese is kept to a minimum, putting the emphasis on the cauliflower, potatoes, and flour tortilla, which isn’t an entirely unrecognizable combination.

For those not turned on by melting pot cuisine, Cowboys & Turbans offers a straight-up curry and masala dishes along with tandoori meats. We opted for the Whole White Basa Fish to offset the weighty quesadilla. The mix of raw and well-cooked onions went well with the moist and flaky fish. Also on our plates was a Mixed Green Salad, which looked ho-hum but was actually really tasty with its garbanzo beans and mint-laced dressing.

The bummer of the meal was the naan. We went for the Kabuli Naan with dried fruit. While the baked-in currants were interesting, there was nothing very “naan” about this bread. With its extremely chewy and undercooked texture, it was more like pizza dough than anything. It might be good as a naan pizza crust, but as a stand-alone bread? Not really.

Even with that one hitch, Cowboys & Turbans deserves a repeat visit. Next time, I might sample a rice or fruit dish from their deli case and maybe even one of their massive burritos, which received enthusiastic praise from the Indian-American teen at the next table who, after one bite, exclaimed: “This Channa Saag burrito is so bomb!”

Now, that’s promising.

Cowboys & Turbans | 2815 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake | Prices: $9-$14

Word to the wise: I tried going on a Friday night right after their Groupon was issued, and it was jammed packed. As a result,  the service was non-existent. I walked out that night and had better luck on a Saturday afternoon.

Valentina Silva is a regular contributor writing about food and restaurants. You can also find Valentina’s reviews and stories on her new blog, Eastside Food Bites.



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20 comments

  1. Who edited this piece?? Could use some corrections…

  2. chicken “tiki.” hehe. love typos like that!

  3. I pretty much love all food and so rarely leave a restaurant unsatisfied, but this place was sooooo disappointing. Everything from the chai tea to the naan pizza to the rice pudding tasted like shortcut attempts at Indian Food made from tastelss pre-packaged American ingredients. Blah!

  4. @ Mark & Sandra. Sorry about that. Though Chicken Tiki sounds interesting.

  5. had one of the worst meals of my life here about a year ago. my group of 5 were the only people in there, we waited 15 minutes for a waitress to come by, another 40 for the food to finally come out. the kitchen staff were all literally standing around doing nothing. i think the tacos were like $3, hardly any meat, topped with half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese (kraft?). frozen french fries with canned tikka masala sauce dumped over them. incredibly pathetic place

  6. @Meghan and cnn: wow! I’m beginning to think I had an anomalous experience here. Oh well. Glad I didn’t have to suffer.

  7. Agree with Meghan and CCCN. I went here soon after it opened in Silverlake, excited. I generally love food. The food here was nothing special. certainly didn’t seem fresh or interesting or particularly tasty even, though it wasn’t actually bad. The service was terrible, terrible. CCCN, same thing happened to my party, we were one of only two occupied tables there and no one waited on us. I had to keep peeking into the back to find the server, trying to get water or see if our food was ready.
    The name is a bit either offensive or dumb – turbans signify indians? how? – but if there was decent food or service it would be fine. We never went back and don’t recommend it. we love electric lotus even though their service leaves plenty to be desired too.

  8. yea I too was not impressed with this place.

    I went once with a friend we both have not returned.

  9. Wow sad to hear the bad comments…I’ve been excited to try this place for a while. Now not so much

  10. Valentina, I don’t thing you had an anomalous experience at all. I like their shrimp burritos a lot, and while the fries have been hit or miss when I order for delivery (as expected for delivery fries), when you get them dining in, they’re pretty great with all of the different salsas and sauces. And I have to appreciate that they have free delivery (so far, though they did raise their food prices with their new menu). Some new places have charged me up to five bucks, even though they’re driving less than a mile (Tarascos in particular, though the food is good).

    It has definitely been a “work in progress” since opening last year (when nobody was going and it was a pretty bleak eating experience, although the outside picnic table last summer was pretty epic), but that’s pretty much the vibe of our neighborhood. I guess I just don’t judge restaurants from one visit (I never trust thin-slicing).

  11. I think a lot of these comments are from people who tried this place when it first opened. It’s gotten a lot better since then. You can’t judge a place until it gets it’s groove.

  12. This place is actually quite good, and tastes like home cooking. If you were to eat at an Indian family’s home you would get food similar to this. Their spices are fresh, the food is spiced correctly, and the vegetables are not over cooked. The naan was a different style but quite good. They probably don’t have a tandoori oven which may be why it’s a different texture. The first time I was there the service was not great, however it has much improved. Every Indian taco filling was delicious, and the lunch buffet offered an excellent selection with a lot of variety. For those familiar with authentic Indian food, one can recognize the quality of the ingredients. In many restaurants the food has so much ghee, oil, and cream that it’s just too heavy. Generally Indian cooks do not cook like that at home, which is something I really appreciate about this restaurant.

    I’m both Mexican and Indian and do not find the name offensive at all. Yes, some Indians do wear turbans – that is not a sterotype.

  13. I ate there once when it was still at El Rey and never found a reason to go back. (not even to flirt with the super cute waitress) It’s really hard trying to be objective when it comes to something as subjective as food and people’s taste buds, but if you think this place is worth blogging about you just haven’t explored this city much.

  14. @Ben–I’m sorry that this one post gives you that impression of my blogging and exploring abilities. I had a good experience at Cowboys & Turbans, and I stand by my review.

  15. If folks find the use of “Turbans” offensive, perhaps the owners can change the name to Cowboys & Indians. Ha.

  16. The food was middling and the manager/owner was condescending/braggardly about the number of people they had just served at Coachella and I’ve never returned.

  17. @eper: Whoops! You’re the one who is ignorant of Indian culture. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pagri_(turban)

    I guess you can criticize using the generalized term “turban” instead of Pagri, but Cowboys & Pagri just doesn’t have that ring to it. Branding is important, man.

  18. I ate here this past November, because it was an interesting concept and I had a coupon from one of those Groupon like sites, but it was not Groupon– I think LivingSocial? It was completely disappointing. So bland. I had high hopes because I love Indian AND Mexican food, but this was a failure. I ordered spinach tofu tacos, that tasted like boiled spinach with raw tofu cubes. They got my boyfriend’s order wrong, and charged me twice for my tacos and the waitress tried to argue with me, even after I pointed out that the menu says 2 tacos for $6.50. (I was charged $13). She then had to go have a “discussion” with the other employees before coming back and condescendingly admitting the mistake.

    I also had the masala fries. They tasted like frozen shoestring fries with masala sauce on top. The waitress warned us the naan was not “traditional” and she was right, it tasted like pizza crust.

    With the poor service and the bland, terrible food, I don’t want to go back. I’d rather just buy Indian food from a better restaurant and dump it into a tortilla and it would have tasted better.

  19. Yeahhh. I really wanted to like this place but was also disappointed. I think it was the chai tea and uncreative french fry situation that really got me down…

  20. This place blows.

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