Amidst the strip of restaurants checkered up and down 3rd Street in West Hollywood, you will find one of the most authentic Indian restaurants in Los Angeles. Electric Karma is an upscale-casual Indian eatery that focuses mostly on authentic Punjabi style cuisine from Northern India, including many vegan and vegetarian dishes. Owners, and brothers, Parmijit “Pamma” and Lakhvir “Lucky” Singh opened their 80-seat upscale-casual eatery in 2004, and since then it has become a staple for Indian food in this hip 3rd Street neighborhood.
When Electric Karma first opened its doors, both Pamma and Lucky managed all the kitchen duties together to ensure their family recipes were executed to perfection. Now, Pamma oversees the kitchen and the menu, and Lucky oversees all the front-of-the-house duties. Electric Karma has now established a loyal following who crave the authenticity of the food and the friendly atmosphere.
Inside Electric Karma, you will find a vibrant décor and dim lighting that set the mood as soon as you step in the front door. During daylight hours, the rich earthy colors in the restaurant brighten the atmosphere, and as the sun sets, the lighting creates a more intimate vibe. The dining room has a very open feel to it and you can enjoy the ambiance of the restaurant from any seat in the house. A walk towards the back reveals an outdoor dining area with plush floor seating, a major attraction for many guests according to Lucky. The patio is perfect for cozy get-togethers and private parties, and can accommodate up to 30 people.
Electric Karma also features an intimate bar area that is suitable for dining alone, waiting for a table, or just enjoying a cocktail. The drink menu is surprisingly varied and offers alcoholic and non-alcoholic options as well as beers and wines from India. The sweet mango sangria was very good. On the non-alcoholic side, Electric Karma offers traditional Indian lassi, which is a drink made with yogurt and flavored with spices and fruit juices. The “sweet lassi” is made with yogurt and rose water – a truly unique combination of flavors. Another noteworthy specialty drink is the nimbu paani, or lemonade made with fresh ginger and lime juice.
While sipping on the mango sangria, our meal began with papadam, which are very thin, crunchy wheat flour chips served with a trio of home-made chutneys. The spicy pumpkin chutney was my favorite of the three, but the cool mint complemented the heat from the pumpkin chutney nicely. This was a tantalizing prelude to the exotically spiced dishes that followed.
Next we tried the naan, which is a traditional Indian flat bread made with white flour and prepared in a tandoor oven. These delightful Indian breads are made to order at Electric Karma and served hot. I was very curious to see the tandoor myself, and Lucky kindly obliged and gave me a quick demonstration on how to bake naan. The prepared dough is placed directly on the inside wall of the hot oven using a small towel or oven mitt. While the high heat from the oven bakes the naan, the smoke in the tandoor imparts the flavor. The dough is so thin that the naan bakes very quickly, about one to two minutes. It is then carefully removed from the side of the tandoor with a long hook. The naan at Electric Karma is a house specialty and many preparations are available, such as garlic and cilantro, olive, cheese, basil, and kabuli, which is sprinkled with coconut and cherries.
Traditionally, a meal of Indian food is accompanied by the naan, and so without further ado, our entrees arrived. Just in time to have some of the bread left to eat during the meal! When the plates of food were placed in front of me, it immediately smelled like spices—fresh garlic, cumin, coriander—as well as a hint of smoke. It all looked like a feast.
I first tasted the Bhartha, a vegetarian entree with a hearty texture. It is what Pamma called a “home-style” dish that he ate almost every day while growing up in India. It is made with eggplant that is cooked in the tandoor, imparting the wonderful smoky flavor to it. The skin of the eggplant is then peeled off, and the pulp is mashed together with sautéed onions, garlic and ginger, as well as green chilies and tomatoes. This dish was perfect with a bit of naan.
Next, I had some of the palek paneer, a very popular Indian dish that is made with fresh spinach, garam masala, and house-made cheese. The cheese gives the dish a very creamy texture and adds rich flavor. Tofu is often added to the palek paneer, which makes it a satisfying vegetarian entrée.
Though the menu at Electric Karma is focused primarily on Northern Punjabi-style cuisine, there are some Southern-inspired dishes as well, one of which is the Masal Dosa. Masal dosa is a very thin, crispy crepe made of rice and lentil flour. It is grilled to order, then filled with spiced potatoes and served with lentil soup and sweet coconut chutney. Preparing the dosa is much like making a crepe, yet the consistency is slightly thicker, so it takes a skillful hand to prepare the dosa. When served, it resembles a tortilla wrap. The thin crepe gives way to the tender, spicy potatoes. The textures created in this dish are truly unique and satisfying.
The signature recipe for Electric Karma’s Chicken Tiki Masala is one that Lucky and Pamma hold dear, as this is their mother’s recipe. I must say, it was difficult to stop eating! The dish consists of marinated chicken that is prepared in the tandoor oven, and a “gravy” that is made with garlic, onion, ginger, tomato, cream and spices such as turmeric, cumin and coriander. It is served with fragrant basmati rice. The intensity of flavor was so compelling that I kept coming back to this dish for another bite. I can see why it is a signature of Electric Karma.
For dessert we enjoyed the house-made mango and pistachio ice cream. It was presented beautifully on a plate, and surrounded by a generous pool of strawberry sauce. It had creamy, smooth texture and intense flavor - what more could you want from ice cream? This was a great way to end our authentic Indian meal.
As we sat and finished the dessert, Lucky joined us for some friendly conversation and to see how we enjoyed the food. His amiable nature is definitely one of the reasons the restaurant has such a loyal following of customers. I assured him it was among the best Indian meals I have had in Los Angeles and that I would definitely come back. If you find yourself in West Hollywood in search of authentic Indian cuisine, I recommend Electric Karma.