Curry Up Now is the second bricks-and-mortar location for an Indo-Cal-Mex mashup that started with a used taco truck. Owners Akash and Rana Kapoor call it contemporary Indian street food. They borrowed recipes and taste-testers from their families, and opened in downtown Palo Alto in December.
As at a food truck, you line up and study the splashy hand-drawn billboard of a menu. Then pay, take your number, fetch utensils and find a table before your food gets there. It's pretty fast. There are a couple tables out front, and space for maybe 30 inside. A steady turnover of customers is facilitated by easily moveable furniture, backless cube seats and bass-thumping music.
Mostly, the clever fusion menu items work because they respect their ingredients. Curry Up Now isn't cheap, but portions are generous and there is wide freedom of choice.
The deconstructed samosa ($7) is like a tostada, open-faced with dough on the bottom. It's overflowing with garbanzo beans and your choice of protein, and topped with cute baby samosas. Spice it up with pico (salsa fresca) and chutney.
Garbanzos are everywhere, and they deserve to be. Their texture finds the sweet spot between mushy and hard, and spices dance in your mouth. On the eight-item thali platter ($11), they occupy a pool in the metal cafeteria tray, along with rice (brown or white), pickles, salad, papadam (lentil-garbanzo) cracker, parantha (which may be a tortilla unless you ask for naan) and two items of your choice. Choose the spinach paneer. Finely ground spinach looks and feels like baby food, but is delicious with cubes of milky cheese. It overshadowed the lamb ($2 surcharge).
Billed as an open-faced sandwich, Naughty Naan ($9) is more of a messy pizza, with a top hat of lettuce mix. It is tasty, for sure, with mild tikka masala enveloping chicken, paneer, tofu or (add $2) lamb. Fingers, or knife and fork? Either way, eat quickly or the naan will become gooey.
On the other hand, the very big burrito ($8.50) has no such problems. This Indo-Cal-Mex mashup works beautifully because the ingredients remain discrete and keep their own personalities. Each bite offers a mix of meat (or tofu, paneer or cauliflower), peas, potatoes and turmeric-yellow rice. The beef was chopped and chewable, not minced.
Curry Up Now is the epitome of inclusiveness, with major access for vegans and the gluten-free. Both get separate menus with lots of choices, including kids' menu items. Just note that these menus contain a lawyerly statement that vegan and gluten-free items are prepared in a common kitchen with everything else, so if you're really, really sensitive, buyer beware.
The water machine has buttons for water, ice and ice water. Another nice touch is the tree of jam jars for water and lassi drinks from the lassi machine. Other drinks are served in little chemistry flasks.
One evening, a very polite young man got up to bus his dishes and was told, thank you, but we'll do that. And they do, just sometimes not in a timely fashion, leaving a sticky tabletop for the next diner.
Downtown Palo Alto increasingly feels like a food court for male tech workers. I guess the women don't go out as much. At dinnertime, Curry Up Now attracts more families.
The food-truck ethos is infectious. Where past generations scoured El Camino Real to find the most authentic samosa, now the samosa comes to you, whether built into workplaces like Google and Facebook or trucked in at places like Oracle.
For more advanced study of food-truck history, see Heather Shouse's book "Food Trucks" (Ten Speed Press). Curry Up Now gets top billing. It includes a recipe for the burrito-like Kathi Roll.
Curry Up Now
321 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto
Hours: Weekdays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: street and parking lots
Outdoor dining: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Noise level: medium-loud
Restroom cleanliness: good