“Indian cuisine has depth,” says chef Manjunath Mural of Long Beach’s brand new Cali Chilli. “It has a history, traditions, ingredients and techniques – but it is still common to define it as a ‘niche’. It is often kept in the genre of the ‘family restaurant’ in many parts of the world, where this is not real Indian food if it is not cheap and there is no type of chicken tikka on the menu.
Mural should know. The globetrotting chef has spent more than a decade opening Indian restaurants around the world, mostly with a modernist bent. In 2015, his Singapore restaurant, Song of India, earned him the first of several consecutive Michelin stars, and he has since opened projects in Brisbane, Australia; Jakarta, Indonesia; and beyond. He has now landed in Long Beach, California for his first partnership in the United States, Cali Chilli, a deliberately ‘unauthentic’ restaurant that blends flavors from India, Mexico, Italy and Los Angeles. .
For the latter venture, Mural has partnered with restaurateur and area chef Sanjeev Kapoor, who also operates a handful of restaurants around the world in addition to Tustin’s Yellow Chilli. Kapoor felt that Long Beach lacked Indian representation (both in its people and its food), with a singular, casual space and a few formal restaurants and steaming lunch buffets serving the hundreds of thousands of residents of the region. Artesia, the heart of LA’s Indian restaurant scene, isn’t far away, but for residents of Long Beach, Kapoor felt there was room for more growth, especially a restaurant that would talk about the flexibility of the extended flavors of Indian cuisine.
Together, the couple opened Cali Chilli in late May in Lakewood Village, creating the space to be a dining destination — think brass-trimmed glass bar shelves, color-changing LED lights under the bar stool seats. bar and high industrial ceilings – it didn’t take itself too seriously. The restaurant’s unique menu is meant to play on the American tendency to insist that foods from other countries be served “authentically,” loosely defined as strict adherence to tradition or, more often, cultural tropes.
Here, Mural plays with chicken tikka by adding parmesan and white truffle oil, skipping hot pepper and ginger in favor of warm Italian flavors. Elsewhere, the chef plays up lasagna by stuffing slices of eggplant – instead of pasta – between layers of paneer, drizzling buttery masala on top to create a complex dish that’s both hearty and playful in its inspiration. .
Being in the greater Los Angeles area, Cali Chilli also offers nachos and quesadillas, American comfort food, flatbreads, and Korean dishes for dinner and brunch. The often-traveling Mural says that while the restaurant is still finding its footing and its audience, it plans to update the menu every six months or so. More than anything, Mural says he’s eager with each new update to push the boundaries he says have often been imposed by unseen authorities on non-European restaurants in America — especially guardrails and limiters. around things like price, accessibility, and experimentation.
“The idea behind Cali Chilli is simple,” explains Mural. “It’s to bring Michelin-quality comfort food to Los Angeles. And here in Southern California, it’s a step away from the stereotypes, in terms of Indian cuisine.
Managing director Vijay Rajput echoes Mural’s sentiment. Hailing from the Midwest as a hospitality worker, Rajput notes that the vast amount of Americans who experience Indian food experience it from many first-generation Indian families who came here. That can often mean (especially in smaller towns and communities) menus that haven’t changed drastically in years, as operators try to cater to as large a viable audience of customers as possible.
Southern California is lucky in this regard. Silver Lake’s new Pijja Palace is a bubbling cauldron of culinary mischief that draws large crowds nightly, while the Mahendro Clan of Badmaash fame continues to work its own unique food magic downtown and Fairfax. Restaurants like IndiMex Eats, Bombay Frankie and Santa Monica’s Tumbi have been pushing the cuisine in exciting new directions for years, while in Orange County, Fullerton’s destination Khan Saab has earned its own Michelin recognition. Still, there’s plenty of room to grow, especially in Long Beach.
“This work is hard but worth it,” says Rajput, “not just for the restaurant, but in the general sense of Indian community pride. That’s why we run out: the menu changes every two years, the brunch is already in place despite the foot traffic, open every day of the week except Monday. We are here to lift hearts and open stomachs.
The new Cali Chilli is open Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday and a Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 4111 N. Viking Way in Long Beach.