Malabar is my favorite restaurant ever, at least in the city of Santa Cruz. Malabar is a delicious vegetarian restaurant (there are some vegan-friendly options) consisting of asian and thai dishes, with a wide range of curries, salads, pasta, freshly baked flatbreads, smoothies, and more to choose from. It’s been around for quite some time and is one of the greatest vegetarian restaurants we have around. It’s hilarious that I can now say it’s my favorite restaurant because when my mom took me there years ago (when I was about 13 or 14), I absolutely hated the food. Nothing on the menu sounded appetizing. I didn’t even know what half of the menu items were! Whatever I ordered (korma balls that consisted of ground pistachios and something else) looked like giant balls of “elephant poo”, as I had described it back then, and it permanently stayed in my mind as the place that served gross round balls of elephant poo. Yeah, interesting. Well, somehow, for some reason, I got brave and actually went back there and tried it again, in my later teenage years. Maybe it was the fact that I had really gotten into vegetarianism around then and was curious about the all-vegetarian dining experience. Who knows. Whatever it was, I’m surely glad I gave it a second chance. All I needed was my mom to order a plate of freshly baked flatbread (otherwise known as paan, or naan) that you dip in a mixture of ghee and minced garlic (seriously, this stuff = GOD), a pineapple-watermelon slush, and a great curried dish, and it won me over. Talk about from one extreme to the other. Ever since, I’ve been hooked.
Their old location was in a very small space near my working place, and a couple of times I would go there for lunch on my lunch breaks. The owner also owned a branch of basically the same restaurant, called Asian Rose, which was located downtown and was strictly served lunch only. You could choose up to 3 different curries from the display case, and it would be served with brown or white rice, all for about $6-7. Super great deal. Well, they closed down, as well as Malabar did, at the same time about two years ago. I remember sitting in Malabar one day for lunch with a coworker of mine and overheard someone saying they were closing down. I FREAKED out. Seriously, I thought my world was ending. I think I was probably depressed for a few days and weeks well after that. But then hope was renewed. Turns out they weren’t closing for good. Their lease just expired and they would be reopening with Asian Rose somewhere downtown. Well I waited. And waited. And waited. Anxiously, but patiently. Their estimated opening day kept pushing forward (or back, however you look at it) and I thought the day would never come. Well one day on my way home from school I got a feeling that I should drive by and see if they posted a sign or were open yet. Sure enough, I walked right in, and they had just opened that day! It was surely one of the greatest days as I was overflowed with joy. And not only that, it turned out it was my friends birthday on the day they reopened, so of course we went there that same night so it was also a pleasure to share one of my favorite things with him too since he had never had their food before. Anyhow, the food is still pretty much the same, although I have to say it was better at the old location. Their presentation is different, and they use new modern dishware and their recipe for the watermelon slushy just isn’t quite the same. But hey, I’m not complaining. The experience is really quite nice–you get affordable, great tasting unique food that you can’t really find anywhere else, and the ambiance is tranquil and fancy with dim lighting. It’s decorated quite nicely with little floating candles and flowers everywhere. They’ve expanded and have a lot more room for seating, which is a plus, but their service isn’t always great. It’s usually very slow, the timing of serving your entrees is usually inconsistent with whatever else you order, and in the past they have neglected to refill your glass with water (when you most need it for this kind of food!) but the great food makes up for it. In the end, you realize it doesn’t matter anyways.
To make a long story short, a few friends and I went out and dined there last Friday night and split a bunch of yumminess. Seriously, that’s the best way to do it. That way you get a nice sample of everything and try new things. After the paan and salad, I was already stuffed. Seriously, every single time I go here, I get a fullness that I don’t get anywhere else. Sometimes it’s just right, sometimes it’s uncomfortable, so I have to pace myself. I always joke that I think they put something in their food to make it expand and get you fuller quicker! It’s probably just the textured vegetable protein in the seitan, tofu, and tempeh that expands a whole hell of a lot. So another nice side affect of that is that you probably have gas for the next 24 hours after you eat here. But anyway, here are some photos:
A new item: rosemary paan with some tzatziki sauce. It was yummy, just a little too salty.
This was something new for me: the ‘Rosemary Lime Martini’. I’d been wanting to try it for the longest time and finally got brave and had something different. I was disappointed. I really didn’t like the taste and I kept trying to like it, but it just was… off. It was cucumber-y and kind of limey and tart and tangy but just strange. I don’t really know how else to describe it. Oh yes, and it came with a black olive at the bottom.
This was also something new for me: Warm Spinach Salad. I am SO glad I tried it. It was super yummy–cooked spinach, candied tempeh, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and walnuts in a balsamic dressing. Such a great idea.
The Steak Diane. Guys really seem to like this dish (because it’s ‘meaty’ with seitan) as it similarly resembles a vegetarian version of cheese steak. The creamy sauce is wonderful and full of mustard and black pepper and it really is a pretty good dish.
One of my all time favorites: the Mango Almond Curry. An example of how the presentation changed when they reopened: they used to serve this with a whole half slice of mango and stuffed it with some of it. Now it comes like this, which is still lovely, but not the same. It’s sweet and slightly spicy with tons of diced mangos, plantains, red bell peppers, some other vegetables, and chopped almonds. A great fruity dish to pair well with something else.
And here are some photos that I took a few months ago at lunch:
This is the basic/plain paan that is a standard. The best stuff in the world. I could eat this all day and not get tired of it. It comes super hot off of the pan and you dip it in warm ghee and garlic… it makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. Yeah, heaven.
A mixture of different curries from the lunch special.
Garbanzos, potatoes, something else, and a side of chutney.
I had the ‘Avocado Malabar’ which I was kind of disappointed with. The avocados were stuffed with a strange pink dressing that had a weird taste and texture and the tofu mixture just wasn’t was I was hoping for. But it still looks pretty.
So if you or anyone you know lives in Santa Cruz, is near Santa Cruz, or is going to visit Santa Cruz sometime in the near future, tell them to go here. You will not be disappointed!