On many reccomendations and one sample of take-out, I finally made it to this dive in one of the most downtrodden 'hoods in SF. I lucked out and got a parking spot within sight lines of the restaurant. Even so, we soaked up some "local flavor" in the fifty foot walk to the door. The experience was like going through a mechanized Indian Meal machine. We walked in and the tumult and fantastic smells dazed us momentarily. There's about ten tables, tons of people and no one seems to be in charge. We finally established that you sit down as soon as something becomes available, and then order up at the counter. When your food is ready, someone brings you the plates. How the guy who takes the orders remembers who gets what is a mystery. In any event, we decided on some tandoori chicken, lamb curry in spinach, dal, a couple of stuffed breads, and some rice. Order placed, communication complete. Next puzzle - Do we need to go find place settings? My girlfriend and I wander up to the counter, eyeing silverware and plates. As we reach for them, one of the staff swoops in and assures us he will bring it to us. Great. We sit, he does. Now water. Same process, more pointing, confusion, eventually it is sorted out and we're back at the table, sipping chilled tap water out of styrofoam.
Same guy swoops in with curry (extra serving delivered by accident will make a fine lunch the next day), chicken, and dal. Bread and rice moments later. From first bite to last, everything is delicious. The menu is not too extensive. It is tempting to order one of each listed - The tandoori chicken is charry and spicy, the curry and dal are both delicious. Plate of lamb chops go by. Definitely getting them next time. Some of the lamb in the curry is still on the bone, and obligingly falls off with a slight poke.
The onion kulcha and stuffed paratha are really exquisite. Extremely fresh tasting, and as they cool, they don't lose flavor or texture. The onions have just enough bite, and the potato filling is smooth and sharp with curry. Even the rice seems to be charmed - It is buttery and tasty, more than just a vehicle for for the main dishes.
We stumble out, very full, a paltry 30 bucks lighter. Somehow we timed it perfectly - There are about a dozen people waiting for tables, and as groups get seated, more people come through the door...
When my father flies in later this week, a return trip may be in order. Location is Jones b/w Geary and O'Farrell - There is a second location on O'Farrell around the corner, called Shalimar Garden. It is apparently normal sit-down and less hectic, same food for a dollar more per dish according to an Indian co-worker goes to one of the two branches at least once a week. At the branch I visited the food was in the $4-$8 range per dish, a couple bucks per serving of rice and bread.