314 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
$$ Indian 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

Review by

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. 

Copyright ©


Business Info

  • Address: 314 5th Avenue, San Diego CA 92101
  • Cross Street: K Street
  • Location: Downtown | Gaslamp Quarter
  • Cuisine: Indian |
  • Cost: | Inexpensive
  • 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 |
  • Phone: (619) 232-5050
  • Features: Full Bar, Sunday Brunch, Outdoor Seating, Prix Fixe Menu, Tasting Menu, Wheelchair Access, Healthy Options,
  • Occasion: Romantic Dining, Business Dining, Meet for a Drink, Quiet Conversation, Special Occasion, Trendy / Hip,


Masala - Masala Bar
Masala - Party Time Masala - Chilli Chicken Masala - Pani Poori Masala - Gulab Jamun Masala - Butter Chicken Masala - Masala Masala - Masala Entrance Masala - Masala Lobby Masala - Masala Dining Room Masala -

Business Hours

Reservations Available
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 11:45 p.m.
Lunch - Main Dining Room 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner - Main Dining Room 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m.


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.
<QuerySet [{'id': 1449, 'name': 'Lunch&Dinner Menu', 'description': 'Lunch: Monday-Sunday: 11:00am-2:30pm Dinner: Monday-Sunday: 5:00pm-10:30pm. This is a sample menu only. Prices and availability may be subject to change.', 'fixprice': False, 'menuprice': Decimal('0.00'), 'displayorder': 1}, {'id': 1706, 'name': 'Chef Ashtas Tasting Menu ', 'description': 'This is a sample menu only. Prices and availability may be subject to change.', 'fixprice': False, 'menuprice': Decimal('0.00'), 'displayorder': 3}]>


Customer Reviews & Ratings

4.5 out of 5 stars based on 1 votes