Sanaya Indian Cuisine Makes Irvine More Desi

Irvine is rightfully celebrated for its Taiwanese food, Persian eateries, Diamond Jamboree. But it doesn't nearly get enough credit for Indian cuisine. From office-park gems such as Vishnu to high-end efforts including Clay Oven to regional specialists such as Annapoorna, Don Bren's manufactured paradise is getting more and more desi every year. And it's sparking the opening of more restaurants like Sanaya Indian Cuisine.

Here is a spot with a dual identity: primarily for office-park drones, but also promising more for those who decide to take a leisurely meal. Lunch brings out a buffet that rotates daily but always satisfies, with appetizers, curries, vegetarian options, even dessert. There's a ridiculously cheap box option that you can only order to-go, as well as an outdoor stand to expedite those orders. But if you walk in and sit, another world awaits. Bollywood music enlivens the atmosphere. A display behind the counter features all the Indian beers available, from Kingfisher to Taj Mahal to even the malty Haywards 5000. The appetizers move beyond gigantic samosas and into all sorts of naans, chaats and pakoras. (On its website, Sanaya also advertises pani poori, the famous hollowed-wheat-balls snack, but I've never seen any at the restaurant.) While the meals include the usual curry/korma/vindaloo/tikka masala, they are spiced for subcontinental tastes: The fenugreek and fennel in the silky achari chicken reeks in the best way imaginable. Sanaya isn't too regional, but that's okay; it's happy with serving Indian grub as delicious as possible.

Such diversity is awesome to share with native Irvinites, people still in awe of how quickly their city changed from boring suburbia to one of the most multicultural spots in America. On a recent visit, my wife—who grew up in Irvine during the late 1980s and remembers when swaths of the city were still cow pastures and agricultural fields—was flabbergasted by the diversity of options in the plaza where Sanaya stands. She grew up knowing Irvine restaurants to be pizzerias and fast-food joints. “This is so cool!” she squealed as we entered the spot. And then we took four samosas to-go.

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