Masala

$25 - $50 Recommended Special Offer

In India, Masala literally translates to “spice.” You’ll get that and much more at this Indian-inspired restaurant on Fifth Avenue. As you enter from the chaotic streets of downtown, you are instantly transported to a far away place. The space exudes warmth with its lighting, and delectable colors that mimic India’s traditional dishes such as Mango Chutney, Saffron Rice, and of course, Curry. On the menu is a Spicy Mango Salad which comes with perfectly sliced slivers of mango with greens, onions, tomatoes, and cucumber. You’ll also want to try their Masala Mix which marries the spices of India with a mixture of onion, tomato, cucumber, and cilantro. A generous helping of lemon juice adds a nice zing to the earthiness of the spice, which enhances the crunch of the main ingredients. A plane ride to India takes close to 20 hours, and will put you out approximately $800 round trip. If you don’t have the luxury or time to visit this beautiful country at the moment, I strongly encourage you to visit Masala. Chef Ashley Popat will scratch your travel bug with her delicious and aesthetically pleasing cuisine while you dine in a little slice of India.

The Spice of Masala

It’s rare to find the kind of brilliant fusion of old world and new world that Masala delivers.  Chef Ashley Popat has created a restaurant where earthy colors drape modern designs, time-honored spices meet exotic presentation, and India and America collaborate to throw a celebration of the five senses.

Located near the end of Fifth Avenue, near the Convention Center in the Gaslamp Quarter, Masala has been a wise choice for Indian cuisine since 2006.  The restaurant is family run, with Chef Popat responsible for the creative end and her brother, Rakesh, taking care of administration.  Named for her special version of Gharam Masala, which consists of 30 different whole spices she grinds herself,   Chef Popat envisioned the restaurant as a destination for Indian cuisine with a touch of fusion, in a fun and modern setting.  And that’s just what we experienced.

The idol Ganesh, surrounded by warmly flickering candles and an array of spice dishes, welcomes us into Masala and hints to the variety of flavors we will soon be enjoying.  Immediately, the creative utilization of space strikes me.  The walls are covered in long, luxurious fabrics, great mosaic columns in red tones support the very high ceilings, and festive beads hang in an intriguing “S” shape directly to the back of the restaurant. The curly, silver chandeliers throughout the restaurant cast a romantic glow over diners, enhanced by the candlelight dancing on the tables and in the lounge. The modernly chic ambiance with its rich textures and crimson colors provides a lush setting in which to enjoy Chef Popat’s culinary achievements.

There are many areas to sit, all with well-spaced tables and classic leather-backed chairs, providing a comfortable, spacious and personal experience.  Part of the main dining room has the option of being enclosed by curtains to create an interesting semi-private space. .  An upstairs level, with a lit wine display and more mosaic columns, is used for private parties of about 50 or nights when the restaurant gets really busy. If you prefer to enjoy San Diego’s fresh breeze, you can also opt to eat on the patio.

Our very helpful waiter, Ravi, began the evening by bringing us a sampling of their most popular martinis from the bar.  The bar itself, resting just beyond the lounge, adds to the décor with its stone surroundings and subtle waterfall, bringing the lush colors and sparkle of the restaurant back down to earth.  We tasted the Passion’tini’, composed of passion fruit juice, fresh lime, vodka and pomegranate liqueur with a slice of strawberry, the fruity smell of which tipped us off to the loveliness of this tasty drink.  Second, the Mango’tini’ offered a more subtle fruit taste, with its Blue Ice Vodka, fresh mango pulp, Triple Sec, and a splash of lemonade.  The Taj’tini’, my personal favorite, was composed of gin, fresh cucumber and mint.  It is a wonderfully refreshing summer drink I’d like to appreciate poolside!

While we were enjoying our delightful martini sips, our first appetizer, Desi Chatt, arrived. These samosas, or triangle-shaped fried pastries, were stuffed with potatoes and peas and  topped with spicy yogurt, a salsa-like mixture of cilantro, onions, and tomatoes, and tamarind chutney.   My fork was like a battalion trying to break the fortress of the towering samosa with its yogurt and tomato camouflage.  Upon first taste, there was a burst of flavors and textures, the starchy potatoes, tangy salsa, and crunchy samosa all mingling together.  It was a refreshing combination of comfort and excitement, all expertly blended by the neutralizing powers of the spicy yogurt.

Our second appetizer, cleverly named Bombay Ganoush, was yet another exquisite combination of spices and textures.  In the center of the plate was a bowl that contained the hummus, which was mixed with tomatoes and onions, offering a fresh bite to the otherwise simple chickpeas.  The small bowl was surrounded by garlic naan, thin, chewy bread topped with crunchy garlic, to serve as delicious spoons for the ganoush.  Hidden underneath the naan was the secret pleasure to the whole dish: roasted eggplant. The texture was brilliantly done, with a crispy skin and a soft center, and the toasted seeds brought with them nostalgia for the comforts of autumn.  The seasoning was simple, allowing the true taste of the eggplant to star.  

To accompany our main entrees, a bottle of Raymond Reserve Merlot was suggested.  A 2005 vintage, this Napa Valley wine offered smooth flavors of ripe cherry, currant and raspberry.  It was a well-balanced, rich accompaniment to all our dishes and offered a delightfully smooth finish.  The wine list offers many varietals, but is still very select with bottles from Santa Barbara, Napa Valley, Monterey, and also Italy, France, and even one from South Africa.

The Cheese & Basil Kulcha and the Poori arrived to the table in woven baskets.  The Kulcha, or leavened stuffed naan, was thick and quite dense, and the spices freckled along the top brought out the flavors of the cheese within.  Alternatively, the Poori, which was deep fried and very puffy, was thinner and more chewy.  Since it was plain, it was great to top with extra sauces from the different dishes.

We were served three entrees: one chicken dish, one lamb, and a vegetarian option.  My personal favorite was the Butter Chicken, and Chef Popat affirmed that many of her customers agree, consequently making it the most-ordered dish at Masala.  It was delivered on a rectangular-shaped dish, which supported large pieces of red tandoori chicken covered in herbs and spices, topped with cilantro and fresh onion.  The slow-cooked, tender chicken was covered in so many wonderful spices it was hard for my taste buds to settle on just one.  Since Chef Popat uses her secret masala, I guess we’ll never know all of them, but there’s definitely ginger, chili, and turmeric, which create a dish full of spice. The sultry flavors explode in the mouth and are all tied together by the crisp, fresh onion.  

Next, as the menu describes, the Pudini Lamb was indeed “a delectable lamb dish”  with huge chunks of lamb sitting comfortably in a thick curry sauce, all topped with several fresh mint leaves.  The smell of the mint was the first enticement, and the flavor of the lamb, enhanced by the exotic curry sauce, didn’t disappoint the senses either.  The tomato-based curry was creamy and the whole mint leaves erved to bring out the natural flavors of the lamb, overall providing a quite flavorful experience.

Saag Aloo, one of the most popular dishes in India, is simply composed of spinach and potatoes.  It was served on a long, rectangular dish garnished with more carrots and limes, and also leafy sprigs of cilantro.  This dish becomes a comfort food even for those who haven’t grown up eating saag aloo.  Its earthy potato pieces fell apart in my mouth and the spinach gushed with flavor.  It was an automatic success at our table.

Initially thinking we couldn’t eat another bite, we quickly changed our minds upon seeing the dessert sampler, complete with Saffron Kulfi, Mango Mousse, and Chocolate Samosas. The Kulfi, a homemade Indian ice cream, resembled a marble sherbet with its orange swirl of tantalizing saffron.  It was icy and composed of actual pieces of crumbled saffron, a rare pleasure.

The Mango Mousse was presented in a large wine glass stuffed with clouds of whipped mango pulp and fresh cream, all topped with fresh mangos.  The mousse was like eating mango-infused whipped cream, it was so creamy, smooth, and fluffy.  The sweet, fruitinessof the mango paired with the lightness of the mousse make this an excellent summer dessert.

We saved the Chocolate Samosas for last and were happy to end on such a high note.  The fried turnovers were filled with Ghirardelli Chocolate Cheesecake, drizzled with chocolate and finally topped with strawberries and powdered sugar.  The cheesecake was creamy and sweet—a great offset to the bitter chocolate.  Finishing with the Chocolate Samosas reminded me of the Desi Chatt we had enjoyed at the beginning of the evening, bringing our lovely dinner full circle.

A meal at Masala resembles the alluring mosaic columns throughout the restaurant—fresh ingredients and enticing spices all pieced together into a presentation that sparkles.  Expect Chef Popat and her excellent staff to make you feel welcomed, and prepare to enjoy a tour through the spices of India. 

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  Restaurant Info

  • 314 5th Avenue
    San Diego CA 92101
  • Address: 314 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: K Street
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine: Indian |
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Fine Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Recommended
  • Dress Code: Business Casual
  • Meals Served: Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: Street |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard | Discover |
  • Corkage Fee: 20.00 | Per 750ml bottle.
  • Staff: Ashley Popat |
    Ashley Popat | General Manager
  • Phone: (619) 232-5050

  Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | Lunch 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Main Dining Room | Dinner 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.

Features

Occasion

 


  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions

The dress code for Masala is Casually Elegant. Guests can wear dressed up versions of their casual attire. This can vary, depending on preference, but for him it could be a dark suit or a button down with trousers, made complete by a sport coat. For her, a formal pants outfit, or a classy black dress complemented by an evening wrap or clutch bag would be appropriate.
Yes, Masala has at least 11 vegetarian dishes on their menu.

 Menus

Lunch&Dinner Menu

Appetizers

Salad & Shorba

Chutneys & Pickles

Tandoori

Seafood

Biryanis

Vegetarian Dishes

Chef Specials

Rice

Fresh Breads

Chef Ashtas Tasting Menu

MAHARAJAH (KING)

MAHARANI(QUEEN)

SHAHI DARBAR


 User Reviews

Taste sensation  

Excellent food and ambience. Highly recommended while in San Diego!

Recommend to Indian food lovers  

The food was great, well presented, friendly atmosphere and a nice and elegant decoration which makes your dining experience enjoyable.

Excellent food, Excellent Dining Experience  

We made reservations for two on for Saturday night at around 7 and were seated right away upon arrival. All of the employees were extremely friendly and accommodating. The food here was honestly the highlight of my night. I have only had food this great one other time in my life at 'Lucille's", and had never even tried Indian food. Now I'm hooked! The atmosphere definitely deserves note- the decor and ambiance worked perfectly. The Masala is fairly quiet compared to most restaurants in the Gaslamp, which allowed for dinner conversation. A little pricey for a regular dinner, as are most restaurants in the Gaslamp, but I am certain that I will make a reservation there the next time I have any extra money, a special night, or an event. If you don't dine here at least once, you are missing out.

Best Indian Food  

I went here with my Indian friend and she recommended certian dishes that I had never tried before and they were all amazing!!! The Mango lassi was delicous! The service was very good too. The ambiance was nice too. We sat on the patio, it was fun to watch the crazy groups of people walk down 5th. The bill came around $100 for two people, and we ordered alot of food, no alcohol. I feel that it was very fairly priced considering the huge amouts of food and diverse dishes that we recieved. The tandoori cooked meats were AMAZING! Great place if you like Indian food. One piece of advice though, Thier food runs quite spicy, so if you can't handle hot ask for it to be mild.

Ultimate Indian Restaurant  

The CEO of our company asked me to select the finest Indian restaurant in San Diego during our Solar Power Convention.... so I carefully researched on the Net. I selected Royal India, Masala and Monsoon. I was shocked, dismayed and disgusted to learn that the sugar coated restaurant reviews for Royal India did not live up to our expectations..alot of false fabrications....something very fishy with so many perfect reviews....we had a horrific experience with lousy food, service and ambiance was just ok Masalas decor is done with no expense spared..i saw people taking photographs non-stop. A real knock out ...OUT OF THE WORLD....our CEO flies just back to dine at this incredibly and magnificent restaurant with fine, spectecular, exotic Indian cuisine prepared by real top notch Executive Chefs like Miss Ashley Popat..... not cooks like Royal India has. I GUARANTEE you will be blown away from this unforgettable and truly ultimate Indian Restaurant.

Reminder  

I am writing again to remind everyone that you must visit Masala Spices of India....a multi million dollar restaurant that will blow you away...the exotic spaceship has landed... a must visit.

ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE AND HEAVEN ON EARTH  

I recently visited this incredible restaurant thats "drop dead gorgeous". Its on Fifith Avenue in the Gaslamp, very close to the Convention Center. The no expense spared decor will blow the living daylights out of you. Every expensive texture and fabric has been used ....the food is die for and the Indian service makes you feel like you are in India. I was also impressed by their great wine selection...fantastic variety and also their exotic drinks....other Indian restaurants need to learn from this very fine establishment....I saw some imitations and copies of these group of restaurants but its only a compliment...if the owners of Masala read this ...dont worry...the copy is very bad. Cheers to Masala and its sister restaurants..may you operate for ever.

amazing  

The atmosphere inside this restaurant must be spread to down town. It is so nicely structured and relaxing. It makes you not want to leave. The friendly staff lead us up the stairs where the hostess politely sat us. I liked being able to look down on the main floor. The water behind the bar was a beautiful touch. Our server gave us full attention and offered wonderful suggestions for our first time in the restaurant. I would recommend it to anyone. I never knew about the restaurant before but I will be back many times. Compliments to the chef. The food was unforgettable. Very tender lamb in the lamb vindaloo and the eggplant was nice and creamy. I can't wait to go back again and try something new.

The Art Of Indian " Mughlai Cuisine"  

".......The dining area is spotlessly clean and Smacks of Good Hygiene. .....To put in a nut shell, the food at "Masala" is astounding. It seemed perfect to be true. It had not an extra ounce of oil or fat despite comfortable levels of Chillies......got carried away by the succulent pieces of chicken, mild flavours, the appetising aroma of charcoal grilled meats...." This restaurant's Chef "Ashley Popat " serve what they call, "Masala Indian cuisine". Each specialty is carefully crafted, as if being prepared for Middle Eastern royalty. Consider Chicken Curry or Nalli Gosht(Samb Shanks sauteed in spices and onions). Palak Paneer (homemade cottage cheese and spinach) is a popular vegetarian entree. The Masala cuisine is served in an elaborate setting with efficient service and beautiful embiance..........!!! "A Kofta of peppery ground lamb tenderly embracing a boiled egg; succulant chicken roasted in a Tandoor, a clay oven; yogurt laced with spices that burst upon the palate like star shells. such Moghul cuisine has subverted many Indian vegetarians...Masala is not a Indian Restaurant in the western sense.... it is a magic little restaurant....." Thanks for the beautiful food and great efficient service Sankalp Kayath from india {jaipur}

Indian Cuisine Anniversary  

Very good variety of spices and how it complimented the dishes, waiter very knowledgeable of what spices go with different meat/seafood dishes. Tasty Martini's, could play continious Indian music. overall geat experience highly recommended!!!

Great food at good prices  

The food was excellent, the atmosphere was very good, and the prices were very reasonable. I highly recommend this restaurant.

excellent food  

Top flight Indian food, charming waiter, a little slow on service outside because restaurant was slammed inside hour of a Padre game. We made it in time, after informing waiter, but it was tight. Would definitely dine there again.

Excellent food  

Food was great, service was great. Very satisfied with this place. Recommend it 100%

Masala Resturant  

The resturant is very good and the food is great,the waiter was very helpful with his suggestions. I was a little disappointed that there was not amaretto in the bar nor was there any white zinfandel wine; I probably did not need that anyway, so it did not ruin my dining experience.

Excellent food  

Ate at this restaurant on a Friday evening, I was glad that it was not too busy. The service was great and the food was excellent. I strongly recommend this restaurant.

Good, but maybe not on Valentine's day  

Our experience on V-day 2010 was okay. The tables were really close together. The kitchen served a set menu and we didn't like two of the four entrees served to us. They have a limited beer selection and we are beer drinkers. The chicken tikka masala was so delicious though! Would try this restaurant again on a regular day.

Pretty Good  

I went there the day before Valentines Day and the restraunt was packed. The staff seemed like they did not know how to handle the crowd and were unorganized. However, i am easygoing and wasn't bothered by this. The food was delicious, and the service was soso. The whole dining experience was about an hour and a half. So if you're in a hurry not the place, but if you have time it's worth a try

Delicious!  

The combination of elegant decor, friendly and prompt service, plus decicious food made my dining experience at Masala a night to remember. A native to the East Coast, I have had Indian Food before and each time was left more unimpressed than the last. While dining at Masala, I felt as if I was transported to an Indian Oasis in the middle of the Gaslamp. The savory dishes melt in your mouth with every bite. The various choices our large group ordered was proof that you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. This includes the list of alcoholic beverages and specialty drinks too! The decor was just as amazing as the food. Beautiful textiles drape the walls, the tables are adorned with decorative fresh flower displays, and the lit candles offer a romantic atmosphere. The menu mentioned a lunch buffet. I would recommend this if you are new to Indian Cuisine as it will allow one to taste a selection of different dishes. I will be holding a holiday dinner party at Masala to treat my friends and family to this wonderful Indian feast instead of worrying about gifts. Thank you to the staff for planning an evening more wonderful than I could have expected!

Good food & Ambience,but service is not so good!  

We had a party of 6 for dinner and our server started off attentive and kept trying to hurry us to order. Once we ordered, it took over 45 minutes just to get our appetizers, and another 30-45 minutes to get our meals. Once we received our meals, we had nothing left to drink and we could not find our waiter to request more. This pretty much ruined our meals. Once he served the meals, he was gone, we had to ask the hostess to retrieve our check for us. The food was great thou! The ambience is nice, but it was really hot in there and the service was terrible.

Great ambiance, modest service, food sucks  

I went to the restaurant for the first time and it was my idea to suggest this restaurant for our team dinner. I did a lot of research to select this restaurant. Everything about the restaurant was great but food. Food really sucked. We order almost everything in the menu and none of the items were good. This supposedly the best and most expensive Indian restaurant disappointed me in terms of food taste. And drinks - I ordered three non-alcoholic drinks and every time the waiter brought me the same drink in different glasses. They all tasted and looked exactly the same.

Not the best place for the money  

The menu for the night we went was completely different than what was online. They served a buffet option or a choice of only 5 dinner meals. Food was ok. In my opinion not worth the money.

Disappointing  

It started with a wobble table and surly waiter and didn't improve. We waited about 15 minutes before the waiter even offered us a beverage. Once we had our wine he quickly took our order. We waited and waited, finally it came, tepid and not great. Perhaps because we're from Vancouver, B.C. which has excellent India food but take a pass and try Monsoon.

Underspiced and overpriced  

The lotus martini and ambiance were excellent but the food was expensive and definitely less flavorful than the average indian restaurant. We asked for an 8/10 in spiciness and received a 2/10 at best. The food was unfortunately bland.

Don't be fooled with the ambience  

The food is OK and very pricy. Not Authentic Indian flavor. If you are looking to have Indian cuisine then definitely not this restaurant.

Bad service  

Don't go here if you have high standards for service-cause you're not getting anyone.

Great ambience, poor food  

Noisy Place  

Very noisy restaurant. even though we made a reservation and requested for a booth they did not honor it and put us in some other seating area. very pricey and the taste was horrible. would not go another time.

Yuck  

The worst indian food I have tried. If you want good indian food then visit Ashoka the Great off Black Mountain Road, the chicken is not dry and their shrimp is not fishy!

I would rather die than eat here AGAIN!  

What a piece of work this place is. Quite a dump. SUCKS HARD!

Lousy Place!  

Lousy restaurant ... don't bother stepping in! Dingy, hot and humid place. Food is at best mediocre - failry bland and flavorless. The lunch buffet is organized in a dingy corner. The stairs are steep and ready to trip you up. The carpet is old and stinking. The staff are in general quite spaced out and untrained. The service is very slow as a result. Someone is running a budget place here but charging high market prices. There are many other better Indian restaurants in town. Avoid this one - not worth your time and money!

Don't go  

This is the worst Indian restaurant I've ever been to. I've eaten at many in Toronto and the UK so on a recent trip to San Diego I tried this place. The decor is nice and service good but the food is just awful. People who like this place must not eat Indian food regularly. I've never been to an Indian restaurant which uses dark chicken meat. It was just truly awful. This is not a cheap Indian restaurant and I would have expected much better but they didn't really have a clue what decent indian food should taste like. Maybe this is good for San Diego but if elsewhere this place wouldn't still be in business. I've never left a restaurant review before but this place was so bad I had to this time.

the worst  

my boyfriendand I had reservations for valentines we waited there to be served for over two hours and the restaurant wasnt busy at all the waiters were very rude we asked for beer and they never even brought it to us i recommend no one go there an there fod sucked