Curry Up Now, a quickly growing Indian street food restaurant, celebrated the opening of its first Southern California location Wednesday at the Irvine Spectrum Center.
When entering the compact eatery, it’s hard to miss the multicolored mural art on the wall — an assortment of images from everyday South Asian life, juxtaposed with logos of local American sports teams and over-familiar Bollywood lines.
This is reminiscent of the interior design of their restaurants across the nation, and like their decor, Curry Up Now’s menu is a blend of casual-contemporary, South Asian and American.
There is a variety of chaat — street food sold across the subcontinent — along with a description of each dish for its non-Indian clientele.
Items include staples like vada pav (mashed potato fritter in a bun), pani puri (hollowed flat-bread cups filled with potatoes, garbanzo beans and cumin tamarind water), bhel puri (a mash of puffed rice and potatoes and garbonzo beans), kathi roll (a flatbread with various fillings), regular samosas and samosa chaat, listed here as “deconstructed samosa,” one of their signatures.
In addition, the menu offers a range of thali platters, made with North Indian-inspired food that have been more popularized in America because of Indian all-you-can-eat buffets. This includes different curries, a choice of protein (mostly chicken or lamb), daal (lentils), rice, bread, pico kachumbar (house salad similar to pico de gallo), and padadum (a thin, crisp flatbread).
The section on Indo-fusion street snacks includes Holy Moly Raviolis (fried cheese ravioli with tikka masala dip), Sexy Fries (an Indian-inspired poutine with cheese and choice of protein) and Quesadillix (whole wheat parathas stuffed with a choice of protein along with sides).
The biggest influence on the cross-cultural portion of the menu is Mexican American fare, as the company first became famous for their tacos and burritos.
Curry Up Now started in San Francisco in 2009 as a food truck, founded by CEO Akash Kapoor, his wife Rana Kapoor, and their partner Amir Hosseini, senior vice president of operations.
It was a “labor of love,” a “weekends-only side business,” where the cooking was done by different members of his family, Kapoor says.
Over the years, they tested different items on the menu to see what worked. Since then, the business now includes three food trucks, eight brick-and-mortar restaurants spanning coast to coast, and a globally-inspired craft cocktail bar, Mortar & Pestle, that is housed within select Curry Up Now restaurants.
And there are over 50 franchise and corporate locations in varying stages of development across the United States, with more openings coming soon in California, New Jersey and Utah.
“Fusion” is a word Akash Kapoor likes to avoid though when talking about their menu. He prefers the word “disruption.”
For instance, even if their burritos filled with ghee makhani butter, tikka masala, Kashmiri lamb, or samosa are wrapped in a tortilla instead of a naan as one might expect, the flavors in it are distinctively Indian, he says.
And they made an active effort to include foods outside of the more well-known curries like tikka masala, which Americans associate with Indian food even though they did not originate in India.
From its very inception, Kapoor says they wanted to go beyond serving clients of predominantly South Asian descent.
So they call their stuffed aloo paratha “Quesadillix.”
“We wanted things on the menu that people could easily recognize easily,” he says. “We didn’t want to get into the education business.”
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs in India, Kapoor migrated to America 26 years ago and has worked, since then, in a range of positions within sales, marketing and real estate.
“I’m a sales guy and have marketing in my veins,” he says.
Kapoor’s background influences the Curry Up Now menu’s play with language, as English words are juxtaposed next to their Indian equivalent: chana masala becomes “chana garbanzo masala,” raita becomes “yoghurt raita,” daal becomes “daal lentils,” and so forth.
That said, chai in the menu isn’t called “chai tea latte,” recalling the hyper-milky, hyper-sweet caffeinated concoction in places like Starbucks.
At Curry Up Now, chai is served with sugar on the side and, as if winking to its desi client, Parle G glucose biscuits.