Walking into Apna Indian Kitchen’s glowing dining room, filled with the scent of fresh curry, tables dotted with steaming family-style meals, and a beautiful Indian elephant tapestry lining the wall, it’s hard not to feel instantly welcomed and relaxed. It’s no wonder Apna means “Ours” in Indian — brothers Ninder Josan and Kuldeep Singh have truly made this shifting space, which used to be Goa Taco, into an oasis where anyone can feel at home.
The road to running their own spot has been a long time coming. Josan learned his recipes from their mother, and the family owns two other restaurants: Saffron in Newbury Park and Tantra in Oak Park. Said Josan, “This was us venturing out on our own.”
It’s fun to hear the brothers banter about which recipes work best and to witness their genuine engagement with the happy community of diners popping in. Although they’ve only been open since July, they’ve generated a following due to their unpretentious service, led by Singh’s calm and friendly front-of-house demeanor.
“Once you start seeing people come back, you know you’re doing something right,” Josan said.
The food is endlessly pleasing at Apna. Start with their enticing appetizers. The warm samosa pastries are filled with potatoes, peas, and spices; Indian latkes are topped with zesty onions and daikon radish; and the amritsari fish pakora is delicately marinated in flour and chickpea batter with spices. “We let the food do the talking,” Josan explained.
For main courses, the butter chicken, marinated in a cream tomato sauce made complete with a pat of butter melting atop it, is otherworldly. Enjoy it with their fluffy garlic naan or, better yet, try their cheese naan topped with mozzarella and herbs for a decadent dipping experience.
The family is from Northern India, where a lot of stews and dishes are served in clay pots; the aptitude for creating incredible sauces is in their blood. When they first moved to America, their father opened a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Josan would do his homework and then help out at the restaurant, honing his craft. “The sauces we make here take about four to four and a half hours,” Josan said.
You can taste the simmered-to-perfection flavors in any dish, especially in their saag paneer, consisting of fresh spinach sautéed with ginger, garlic, roasted cumin, and fenugreek. An Apna specialty with an American spin are their curry fries, a hearty plate of waffle fries topped with fenugreek, herbs, and curry sauce.
Gearing their concept toward the Santa Barbara palate, the duo hopes to add more seafood dishes in the future and eight more draft beers to their already strong list. Topa Topa’s Chief Peak and Golden Road’s Mango Cart make appearances as well as Indian beers, such as the Taj Mahal lager. “Beer and Indian food work amazingly well together,” said Josan, who also serves some wine.
For dessert, gulab jamun (Indian fried rose-sugar-syrup doughnuts) and pistachio kulfi (homemade ice cream) can be paired with a warm masala chai or a refreshing mango lassi.
The variety of textures, flavors, smells, and overall sensory enjoyment at Apna is difficult to put into words, so I’ll take a cue from Josan’s simple encouragement for Santa Barbarans to “come and try the food.”
718 State St.; 770-8479