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Cowboys & Turbans is the latest creation of the man behind Electric Karma, Baba Ji, whom the L.A. Times has appropriately deemed the "Spice Master." Baba, who originally hails from the Indian coastal state of Goa, decided it was time to start a new endeavor and sold his wildly popular 3rd Street restaurant. After a few drinks at the House of Blues one night earlier this year, a munchies-craving Baba picked up a taco from a Mexican street cart, took it home, and started experimenting. He sprinkled some curry sauce on it, and so was born the idea for Cowboys & Turbans. Here he is, the infamous Baba:
The restaurant is one of a handful of independent establishments on Miracle Mile bringing new creative life to a strip of Wilshire once almost entirely dominated by the likes of Starbucks and Subway. Cowboys & Turbans is housed in the café adjacent to the El Rey Theatre. This location seems somewhat cursed, having played revolving door to a number of eateries over the past few years, including a short-lived outpost of the now extinct Doughboys chain. Having opened Cowboys & Turbans in April, Baba is already setting records!
More casual than Electric Karma, the restaurant focuses its attention on Indian street food. Its interesting name refers to its menu of Tex-Mex offerings, infused with Indian influences.
At Cowboys & Turbans, Baba strives to offer more creative alternatives to the standard Indian fare of rice and curry and successfully does so through his concise menu, which (in my many visits…) has yet to disappoint. Prices are great too, with nothing over $10 and most items well under that.
Start with a generously sized samosa, great for sharing before an entrée. The delicious fried treat is served with mint and spicy tamarind dipping sauces. Baba uses extra virgin olive oil to prepare his samosas, as well as all other dishes at Cowboys & Turbans, making him the first Indian street chef to do so.
The restaurant’s tacos are certain to give even the Kogi truck a run for its money. They are available with chicken, fish, shrimp, or tofu, so order a few varieties to sample. Each taco contains lettuce, tomato, cheese, mint, lime, tamarind sauce and Baba’s secret spice. Oh Baba, such a mystery man!
A visit to Cowboys & Turbans would not be complete without sampling the mouthwatering quesadilla. Gooey cheese and chunks of chicken are cooked with tomatoes, onions and spices and wrapped in a crisp tortilla. This one gets my vote for perfectly executed Indian/Tex-Mex fusion.
Fellow carb-lovers, have you ever visited an Indian restaurant and wished you could enjoy your entrée with both naan and rice? Baba’s wonderful creation, the naanwich, solves this dilemma, stuffing rice and either chicken or tofu tikka masala in a delightfully fluffly piece of naan. Each naanwich is served with a portion of crunchy masala fries and a robust spicy dipping sauce.
All of these dishes are complemented by a selection of sauces offered in Cowboys & Turbans’ recently implemented salsa bar.
Dessert options change daily. We were lucky enough to try the sweet, warm apple samosa with a well-paired mango gelato.
To wash it all down, go for a refreshing chai tea or a nimbu pani, a common Indian street drink made with fresh squeezed lemon and lime.
In a city with more fusion and taco options than can possibly be healthy, leave it to the Spice Master to get the job done right.
-Visit the restaurant on Taco Tuesday to enjoy some $1 tacos
-That said, avoid the Tuesday lunch crowd by visiting before 11:30 am or after 2 pm
-Cowboys & Turbans also gets packed on nights when there is a show going on at the El Rey, so check the theatre’s calendar when planning a visit
NEXT TIME on Foodie Fridays: We're heading down to Leimert Park to try out Babe's and Ricky's Inn.
Photos by Jennifer Saracino.