At this point, sitting down for a meal at Silver Lake’s Pijja Palace feels like getting tickets to the Super Bowl. It’s one of the buzziest restaurants in the country, the brainchild of owner Avish Naran and kitchen manager Miles Shorey, who decided it was time to bring South Asian fare into the sports bar world. Fans line up for pizza topped with green chile chutney and Tandoori spaghetti with smoked chile.
Now, Bay Area residents can get a taste of that Indian American fusion experience without driving six hours to SoCal.
Mr. Singh’s Curry Pizza opened four months ago with no more fanfare than the grand opening banners waving about its non-descript entrance. A multicolor neon open sign waves hello; the restaurant’s name is written in tremendous all-caps red lettering. But it’s the ambiance and food that’ll make this restaurant one of San Francisco’s go-to Indian dining options. Though the menu has plenty of traditional sports bar classics — boneless buffalo wings, garlic sticks, Hawaiian pizza — there’s also a cornucopia of choices that are likely only available at this lowkey pizzeria. “I worked at Mountain Mike’s, Domino’s, [and] Pizza Hut,” owner Garry Singh says. “It was always my dream to have my own pizza place.”
There are 19 Indian pizzas on the menu, nine with meat and 10 without, all colorful and behemoth. The airy crusts have just the right shatter on the edge, or at least that was the case with the flavorful chicken tikka masala and butter chicken pies. The chili paneer pizza on a gluten-free cauliflower crust is naturally thinner, but not suffering for it. Cubes of cheese sport a lightly crisp exterior that gives way to pillowy chew, nutty in flavor, with an indulgent curry sauce running underneath. The Gourmet Veggie Delight pizza is a bright choice, with splashes of ginger and cilantro. For the meat eaters, the butter chicken and Desi barbecue chicken pies are go-to orders, an extra large 20-inch pizza coming in at $43.99. Plus, Singh is tinkering with six more pie, as he says goat curry and shrimp curry are a few flavors doing numbers in India right now.
The atmosphere makes up for any less thoughtful parts of the menu. Sitting down to chomp through pizza here — including possibly the first gluten-free Indian pizza available in San Francisco — feels down to earth, uncontrived, thanks to no-frills service and the tones of hip-hop beats that fill the restaurant. There’s abundant seating and a casual ambiance where you might find the Milwaukee Bucks playing the Denver Nuggets on the big screen above. Ownership comes from the family behind Five Rivers Indian Cuisine in Daly City.
Singh is no stranger to San Francisco, nor the pizza game. He grew up in Fremont with his two younger brothers where his father worked for Mountain Mike’s and Papa Johns after emigrating from the Punjab region of India in 1999. Then in 2007, when Singh was 15 years old, his father died and the would-be entrepreneur dropped out of high school to take over at Mountain Mike’s full-time to help his mom pay the bills. His cousin owned Indian restaurant Mehfil in San Francisco, so when he was 18 he went north to cut his teeth in the kitchen. Seven years later, he took over Five Rivers Indian Cuisine from his uncle in Daly City. “My story has some sad parts and some happy parts,” Singh says. “I worked seven days a week with me, my brother, even my mom helped out.”
Though Singh is taking the new-ish sports bar approach, Indian pizza is a Bay Area invention. On the west side of the city alone, there’s Brothers Pizza on Taraval Street and Golden Gate Indian Cuisine & Pizza closer to the beach on Judah Street. Soleil Ho found Kinara Fusion Kitchen in the Tenderloin to be their favorite Indian pizza in the city, and for their part, they proclaimed Zante’s on Mission Street as the OG, an origin point Munchies backed up in 2015.
The kitchen at Mr. Singh’s is just getting started. Though beer and wine are not on the menu yet, Singh is looking forward to putting 19 beers on tap when his permits finish clearing, hopefully by this summer. Chai costs just $2 — a grateful price point for a straight-up rendition of the drink that arrives spicy and strong — and Indian soft drink Limca is available for $3. There’s even a wide array of desserts including mini churros and carrot cake. If Singh has it his way, there’ll be more locations in San Francisco and San Mateo someday, though that means he and his brother are going to keep working 12-hour days for a while. “I want to be a millionaire to help poor people,” Singh says. “There are so many poor people in my home country who need money just for lunch. I want to take a vacation when I’m old, but at the same time help people who need help.”
Mr. Singh’s Curry Pizza (2241 Judah Street) is open Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.