Sometimes the best things are right under your nose. Or in this case, one of my favorite dishes so far in San Francisco just under and around the corner from my Mission District apartment. It’s Babu Ji restaurant. I’m not sure why I had not discovered this before now.
Babu Ji’s is located just off 14th and Valencia streets. From their website, “Jessi and Jennifer Singh, the team who created four highly acclaimed restaurants, Babu Ji in NYC’s Alphabet City, Horn Please and Babu Ji of Melbourne, Australia (both sold 2015) and Dhaba at the Mill of Kyneton, Australia (sold in 2013), come full circle, bringing their signature creative and fun approach to Indian dining to San Francisco’s Mission District, where the duo originally met. The Hindi term, Babu Ji is an honorific title used to offer respect to a man. We tend to use it a bit playfully, bestowing the title on unlikely and simple men, but deserving by our measure none the less. Our Babu Ji could be that self-appointed neighborhood ambassador who knows everyone and everything that’s happening in the village.”
Oddly the restaurant here is only open about four hours or so a day Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday. Without a reservation, I arrived just as the doors opened on a weeknight. No problem getting a seat. I also was welcomed to ‘ happy hour’ at the bar. Instead, I wanted the dining experience. I chose to order my own items from the menu instead of the wine or beer pairings. First up:
Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower Indo-Chinese style cauliflower in a tomato chili sauce, sesame and onion seed, chives
Like so many others, this is my favorite dish on the menu. It’s so rich and interesting but so decadent and light. While I had it at the Babu Ji’s in San Francisco, turns out there was a real fight over this recipe in New York!
“A former cook at Babu Ji, now the head chef at Badshah, Charlie Mani claims he created the dish when he was at Babu Ji, yet Jessi Singh of Babu Ji says it’s not true,” according to Eater New York. Sounds like a food soap opera to me!
More about the dish’s original background: “Babu Ji owner Jessi Singh denies Mani’s version of events. “Yes, Charlie did work at Babu Ji, although not for many months before Babu Ji’s closing. He did not create that dish,” he wrote in an email. “I slightly adapted the [popular Indian dish gobi Manuchrian] and wanted to put it on the Babu Ji menu, specifically because my family and I love eating that dish together in our local restaurant in India. For the Babu Ji menu, Jennifer and I thought of a name that we thought would be really fun for the dish, calling it Colonel Tso’s Cauliflower. That is the history of the dish at Babu Ji.”
Then, there was the Leg of Goat Korma – Cardamom, clove, bay leaf, garlic, and ginger goat curry
And of course the garlic naan But, this is an experience review and not a recipe review.
***FIVE POINT EXPERIENCE REVIEW***
FOOD – GOOD+. I wish I had kept that cauliflower all to myself! But, we shared at the table. Other dishes ordered were also enjoyed. I overhear people at neighboring tables talking about how good their food was as well.
COCKTAILS –I had a nice non-alcoholic drink (the picture above). Good. But I didn’t sample the beer or wine. The beer fridge was self-serve which struck me as a little odd for the type of service we were receiving. But the supposedly had like 50-something different drinks.
LOCATION – Near the heart of Mission.. 280 Valencia Street.
PATIO – (There is not one.)
SERVICE – VERY GOOD from the moment we sat down at the table. Service makes a big difference for me. It helps me decide whether I’ll be back. With the good food and good service, I’ll definitely be back!
Yelpers give this place a 3 out of 5 start rating. I find that unusual for my experience. Based on the very attentive service and the cauliflower and naan alone, I’d give this place a 4-4.5 stars.
By Jeff Parsons – Food blogger, photographer, and editorial content manager.
ALL PHOTOS are owned by Jeff Parsons and can not be re-produced or re-used in any way without a licensing agreement to do so.