108 West 2nd Street #104, Los Angeles CA 90012 (map); 213-221-7466; badmaashla.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: An Indian fusion restaurant hits the mark with its excellent lamb burger
Want Fries with That? Yes; Solid skinny cut spuds with seasoning
Price: Spiced Lamb Burger, $13; chicken tikka poutine, $12; masala potato fries, $5
An Indian restaurant isn't where you'd expect to find burger greatness, but the new, family-run joint Badmaash in Downtown Los Angeles is an unexpected restaurant. Not just because the Indian tradition that shapes the menu is also the one that gave us the idiom "sacred cow" (well, the Hindu tradition), but also because it doesn't seem to be the kind of cuisine that would play well with a burger. Then again, the name Badmaash means "naughty" in Urdu (as well as Gujarati and Hindi for that matter) and is, well, sort of a swear word, so perhaps ignoring rules isn't entirely unexpected.
The story of Badmaash starts in India, goes through Canada, and ends up as thoroughly American. The Mahendro family found their way to LA after a long and winding road beginning with the patriarch, Pawan, getting a classical culinary education at Bombay Catering School and integrating his young family into every aspect of his career. His wife, Anu, did the books at their highly regarded Toronto Indian spot Jaipur Grille, and his boys Nakul and Arjun did, well, just about everything else. When it came time for mom and dad to retire, they settled on the idea of a slower life by the Santa Monica Bay. Nakul and Arjun were able to convince them that running just one more restaurant would make for a perfect way to kickoff retirement. Dad would handle the menu creation, mom would make sure the books were in order, and Makul and Arjun would handle everything else. Badmaash is the result of their collaboration.
It's fun to see Nakul and Arjun bring their youthful exuberance to bear on this new space. They both have over a decade's worth of experience, but they exude a warmth and enthusiasm that can't be learned. After coming of age in Toronto, they have made Badmaash and Los Angeles their adopted home. I stopped by to try their burger and wound up enjoying so much more.
The Spiced Lamb Burger ($13) is an example of Pawan's trained hand at work. I know the lamb burger is a tried culinary creation, but I usually find them less than appetizing. Not so with Badmaash's version. The succulent lamb gets mixed with ginger, garlic, and Indian spices and is served on a brioche bun from Breadbar. It's topped with tomato, onion, cilantro, and a spiced Indian mayo.
The flavors come together to make for an unmistakably Indian dish with delicious American architecture. The lamb crumbles nicely due to a proper coarse grind and is cooked to a temperature that allows it to retain some nice juice. The garlic, ginger, and Indian spices mask the gaminess that I find unappealing about some lamb dishes, resulting in a flavor profile I enjoy, but I do realize that I'm in the minority with my lamb aversion. Even the brioche bun is a winner here. Normally the sweetness and crumble of a traditional brioche such as this would bother me, but it actually plays nicely against the lamb.
Badmaash also does a beef burger ($11), but it's the lesser of the two. I know it's an unexpected recommendation coming from a beef burger enthusiast, but I say go with the lamb in this case.
I tried many other dishes on Badmaash's menu worthy of a closer look. The fish bites ($9) are another unexpected treat. The little deep fried nuggets of fish are coated in chickpea batter with carom seed and mango dust. They have a subtle sweetness that's really satisfying along with the deep fried crunch.
The Murgh Makhani ($12), or butter chicken, is an Indian wedding standby and about as Western-friendly as an Indian dish gets. Normally that would be reason enough to look past it, but this one demands a closer look. The chicken is high-quality and succulent and the sauce demonstrates more depth and flavor than any other version of the dish I've ever tried. It might feel like ordering pad thai at an authentic Thai restaurant, but you should give in to temptation in this case.
Arjun told me that he has a special affinity for the Badmaash version of bangain bharta ($11). The eggplant of this Indian vegetarian dish is smoked in the tandoor and given added complexity from caramelized onion and roasted garlic.
The Toronto boys insisted on adding poutine ($12) to the menu in honor of their Canadian homeland. Their version adds some tandoori chicken to the mix, aside from mozzarella and gravy.
The masala fries ($5) are dusted with Indian spices. They're tasty and clearly Indian without losing their basic deep fried appeal.
At the end of the meal your check arrives with a few pieces of Double Bubble in a nod to Pawan's childhood. As a little boy in India the American bubble gum was worth its weight in gold. It's another nice touch that reminds you a family with a long history is responsible for this shiny, new restaurant.
Indeed, it's the whole of the experience at Badmaash that makes it a worthwhile addition to Downtown. You walk in and instantly feel like a regular. Arjun or Nakul greet you like a future or old friend. Yes, they know that successful restaurateuring means cultivating a consistent audience, but you also feel their sincere passion for making a long held family dream a new reality. When you meet the Mahendro family and experience their warmth and passion, you realize a welcoming restaurant that makes delicious food is entirely what you should expect.