By applying a familiar quick-serve restaurant formula and turning it on its head, Sam & Curry in San Jose takes Indian cuisine to another level with a menu filled with burritos, tacos and rice bowls. But whether you eat your meal with your fingers or a fork, the dishes have an intensely authentic taste that is irresistible.
“Nothing is frozen, and there is no microwave in the kitchen,” co-owner Vivek Sharma told San José Spotlight. “We make everything from scratch every day, so everything is fresh and full of flavor.”
Sam & Curry Indian Cuisine was founded in 2021 by Sam Patel, who, as an executive at Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, helped the franchise grow to 50 locations. Patel also worked with Chipotle Mexican Grill and opened Sam & Curry on North First Street in a former Chipotle location.
“Sam had the mindset of Chipotle, and he set this place up like one,” Sharma said. “It is the same idea. Mexican or Indian, rice is rice and lettuce is lettuce. The customer picks the base from the menu, like a burrito, and then we add rice and lentils and the protein they want. Then we have sauces and toppings to finish the meal.”
Meat and vegetarian choices include chicken tikka, lamb curry, chicken curry, paneer (grilled cheese), lentils and saag (stewed spinach). They can be prepared as burritos, wrapped in huge flour tortillas, or as tacos nested in Indian poori or naan bread. Dressed greens, roasted onion and red peppers, crunchy flour-based sev (noodles) and raita yogurt complete the meal.
The food can also be prepared as a salad, rice bowl or as a traditionally plated meal. The heat level is fairly modest and can be raised by the addition of red curry, house-made cilantro chutney and tamarind sauce—or lowered with cool yogurt-based raita sauce.
Sharma, who owns several Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurants, bought into the business last January after a chance visit.
“As soon as I walked in, I was so impressed,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I ever had an Indian restaurant, this is how I want it to look like.’ I ordered $70 worth of food because I wanted to try everything— and everything was awesome.”
Sharma, who is from Punjab, India, made one large change to the menu: a more traditional recipe for saag, which originates from the northern side of Punjab.
“The way Sam had it, it had broccoli and kale,” Sharma said. “I went to some other restaurants and they all tasted the same as that. Our saag is now mostly spinach. The texture and the taste are very different.”
The drive for authenticity shows in the dishes. The curries have great depth and character, the meats are melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauces are rich and complex. Indian sodas and beers are available. Though made to be accessible for a casual take-out crowd, Sharma wants everything prepared to the same standards as a high-end restaurant.
“I read and respond to every Yelp review,” Sharma said. “I talk to every customer that I can to get feedback. What they usually tell me is that they love the flavor and the taste, and they love the portions. And if they don’t like something, we will work on it.”
First-time customer Tina Beder, on a visit to San Jose from Sacramento, was pleased with her chicken tikka salad bowl, made with romaine lettuce and topped with Chana curry made with chickpeas.
“Everything tastes fresher than fresh,” she told San José Spotlight. “I love the sauteed vegetables. This is a very good place to sit and have some great food outdoors. I wish they would put one of these restaurants near me.”
With their backgrounds in franchise operations, expanding Sam & Curry comes naturally to Patel and Sharma as they work to open two more locations in San Jose on Santa Clara Street and Berryessa Road in the near future.
“We are set up to grow, not just stay in one location,” Sharma said. “Starting next week, we are starting to train new cooks for the second location. We want to take a couple of months to get everybody trained to work at the pace and skill that we need before we announce the opening.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
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