When you scroll through the dozens of reviews for Apna Indian Kitchen on Yelp, you’ll see high praise and 5-star reviews.
“It reminded me of my Grandmas samosas!”; “BEST AUTHENTIC BUTTER CHICKEN!”; “Definitely by far the best Indian food in town!”.
One reviewer gushed over how spicy the food was, and said other restaurants can’t seem to get it right.
“My nose was running slightly which proves that it really was the perfect amount.”
Ninder Josan, who opened Apna along with his brother Kuldeep Singh this past June, told the News-Press they will deliver on hotness if requested, but the secret to great Indian food is the liberal use of spices.
“By spices I don’t mean like chili. I’m talking about garam, masala, coriander, cumin powder, just for flavor. A lot of restaurants lack that here, I feel. So, a lot of our dishes you’ll try, you’ll see. It’s not spicy, it’s just a lot of flavor,” said Mr. Josan.
Located at 718 State St, Apna serves modern Indian cuisine right in downtown Santa Barbara that stays true to authentic dishes and classic flavors.
Their menu features starters like cheese naan and samosa, and delicious meals like tandoori or butter chicken, along with beer, wine and Indian sodas. Customers have the option to make their dishes mild, medium, spicy, or even 911. Apna offers four types of curry as a base: masala, nirvana, korma and saag; and seven proteins, including chicken, fish and tofu, that customers can choose from.
“We’re trying to avoid having two or three hundred things on the menu, as most indian restaurants do, and just keep it one page, simple,” said Mr. Josan.
The brothers, who immigrated to the U.S. from Punjab, knew that running a restaurant was always what they were going to end up doing.
“We grew up in the restaurant business since we’ve been here. It was go to school, come home, do your homework and stuff, and then go help out at the restaurant at dinner,” said Mr. Josan.
Their family owns two restaurants in Ventura County, Saffron in Newbury Park and Tantra in Oak Park. Along with their extended family, the brothers have helped run the businesses almost their whole lives.
The boys’ father immigrated to the US in 1990, before he brought them over in 1998. As soon as the brothers arrived in the U.S., their lives revolved around restaurants.
Now in their 30s, they’ve gained the managerial know-how, customer service skills and, most importantly, they’ve mastered their parents’ cooking. Walk into the restaurant and you’ll find Mr. Singh greeting customers at the front while Mr. Josan cooks up amazingly flavorful dishes in the back. With Apna, the brothers have taken all the lessons they’ve learned from their parents and set out to build on them.
“This is us branching out on our own,” said Mr. Josan.
The brothers still help out behind the scenes at their family’s restaurants, and their parents call from time to time to check in or stop by to help out and give advice. While some of the dishes are what their family grew up eating, the brothers have tried to advance the traditional Indian kitchen menu.
One of the primary ways Apna tries to innovate with Indian food is by keeping the menu small and simple. The brothers try to focus on dishes that get the most positive feedback, as well as ones that are generally popular at indian restaurants. Santa Barbara’s State Street is a tourist hotspot, but Apna wants to be a restaurant that caters to local tastes as well as visitors’.
“We had a smaller menu before, when we opened, but we’re adding a dish here, a dish there. Just growing it a little bit and seeing what the locals want,” said Mr. Josan.
One of the most popular items at Apna are the curry fries, an Indian fusion dish of crispy waffle fries covered in tomato-based masala curry.
“We’re kind of collaborating as far as taking Indian food and what people are familiar with here and putting them together,” said Mr. Josan “People love it.”
Even though it might cut back on profit margins, Apna serves up hearty portions that will leave dinners stuffed.
“It’s comfort food. It’s not a small little thing and you pay $30 for it. All of our curries have a good amount of protein in there, and sauce, where some restaurants you’ll just have the sauce and just three pieces of chicken just floating around,” said Mr. Josan.
The brothers have a lot of ideas when it comes to serving up amazing Indian food, but they know the best restaurants are engaged with their home and take feedback seriously.
“Becoming part of the community, that’s our main thing. Getting involved in the community and growing from them,” said Mr. Josan.
As they continue to refine the business, the brothers want to take Apna to Santa Barbara’s many festivals and start hosting fundraising events for different organizations, schools or sports teams. In the meantime, Mr. Josan will continue experimenting and adding new dishes to the menu, like the seafood items he has in the works.
With free 75-minute parking right around the corner at Ortega and Anacapa Street, Apna is a great stop for anyone looking for a ton of delicious food with a ton of delicious spices.
“Come try it. You won’t be disappointed,” said Mr. Josan.