If you’ve ever had the good fortune to travel to India, and even better, to eat your way through Mumbai, you’ll gain a special love for breakfast there. Indians do alchemical things with eggs and chiles and buttery pav (bread) and spices that tickle your nose and awaken your senses with a quick smack, especially the street food. It’s food with a big personality, so high on the spice Richter scale that you need to travel far to find it. Therefore, it’s pretty magical that San Francisco has a tiny wine bar on Divisadero — in a pocket that isn’t quite Upper or Lower Haight, located just south of Nopa — serving brunch dishes direct from the streets of India.
Indian Paradox 258 Divisadero St., indianparadoxsf.com
Owner Kavitha Raghavan opened Indian Paradox three years ago, inspired to demonstrate that Indian food and wine can make for some exciting and excellent pairings, without leaning on riesling as the expected go-to. In fact, she just begrudgingly added a Teutonic riesling blend from Willamette Valley to her menu — she’s happiest finding a good fit with a falanghina or a Greek xinomavro. Her passion for wine is matched by her desire to share street food dishes from all over India, from her native Chennai to Kerala to Maharashtra. Save the tikka masala for other places; here you’ll find sundal — warm garbanzos with mustard seeds, curry leaves, the sulfuric tang of asafetida, shredded coconut and unripe mango — paired with an Austrian sauvignon blanc. There’s even a new tasting menu in the evening so you can try it all. Raghavan made the move from electrical engineering to becoming a certified sommelier, and also had her first child a year before opening Indian Paradox — nothing like experiencing motherhood and your first restaurant at the same time. (She also ran the San Francisco marathon last year.)
She works closely with chef Maribel Palomo, who faithfully executes these far-flung dishes (some slow-cooked, soft-scrambled eggs, spiked with a Parsi masala with star anise (basically, a “garam masala on steroids”), ginger, garlic, turmeric, onions, tomatoes and cilantro. You scoop up the eggs with buttery halves of brioche buns golden with ghee, so delicate against the fireworks from the eggs. It’s a must-order.
Dishes can transport you to an auntie’s kitchen table, like the homey upma, a breakfast porridge of semolina, mustard seeds, chiles, curry leaves and asafetida, with coconut chutney on the side (it’s also a popular dish at south Indian weddings). Or there’s the peasant dish of kanda batata poha, a classic breakfast item in Maharashtra: fluffy steamed rice flattened in a pan with turmeric, onion and potato.
How could anyone resist disco fry eggs? It’s a Mumbai street food dish that even many Indians have never heard of: Those marvelous brioche buns are pressed into the masalas and eggs to make a sort of French toast. Take a sip of the lemongrass-spiked chai. Or the prosecco pairing. You’re not quite in India; it feels close, but you just happen to be in a very special place in San Francisco.