We all have our go-to, dirt cheap, hole-in-the-wall Indian spot. This is not it. And thank goodness for that. No, Sultan is doing something different here — something exciting yet familiar. Step inside and hardwood floors, sleek tableware, flattering dimmed lighting, and soothing earth-toned walls meet the eye. Meanwhile, the nose is met with scintillating aromas of spice and good things to come.
This family-run Indian restaurant differentiates itself from neighboring competitors with its classed-up ambiance and presentation, and continues the theme through its menu of updated classics. Sultan has taken traditional recipes (some passed down for generations, some inspired from street food favorites) and given them a contemporary twist, serving them up with style and finesse.
Trio of Dishes from Sultan
Papadum with Mango Chutney
Chef Khadija, the matriarch of the restaurant, was formally trained in Mumbai. She uses organic ingredients whenever possible, including free-range chicken and New Zealand lamb, and freshly grinds all her spices, regularly shipped in from India. While this focus on fresh ingredients has placed Sultan into a higher price range than your typical Indian restaurant, the extra few dollars is well worth it. The quality of products and made-from-scratch effort shines through in each dish, and you are left feeling like you are eating at mom’s table… when mom is a professional chef.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Sultan’s Murgh Tawa Masala (their version of Butter Chicken, or Chicken Tikka Masala as many know this popular dish by) is the best I’ve tasted yet in the city. Incredibly rich without being too heavy, the chicken is smoky and spiced with just the right amount of heat, and the thick velvet tomato and yogurt sauce melts luxuriously in your mouth.
With every great sauce comes a need for a great sauce receptacle. Fired to order, the fluffy, fresh naan here fits the bill. The Garlic Naan is scattered with lots of fresh garlic and cilantro, and baked in a clay oven until crispy and slightly blistered on the outside, warm and chewy on the inside.
The Kheema Naan, stuffed with minced lamb meat, garlic, red onions, and fresh herbs, was savory, hearty, and would have made an excellent appetizer on its own.
Chicken Korma and Tikka Masala
Looking hindsight, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision to invite my spice-intolerant friend to this particular dinner. Nevertheless, Sultan rose to the occasion when posed with the challenge of creating a dish with no heat. That’s right, an Indian dish with no heat, but still full of flavor, is indeed possible. Our special needs Chicken Korma was created, a mild curry fragrant with turmeric, cashews and saffron, gentle enough for a baby’s palate.
Stir Fried Okra
The Stir Fried Okra (Bhindi Masala) was colorful and fresh. Cut into even bite-sized pieces and appetizingly bright green, the okra was sautéed with ripe tomatoes and caramelized onions. The stickiness of the okra was pleasantly present but not too pronounced. The tomatoes were heavily spiced and seasoned, and cooked down to create some intensely concentrated flavor.
Mint Chicken Tikka
The Mint Chicken Tikka featured two skewers of smoky chicken, rubbed full of mint, yogurt, and aromatic spices. Grilled so you get all those delicious bits of charred crunch, this was the best reinvention of street food I’ve seen in a long time.
For their take on Samosas, Sultan uses a light, crispy shell similar to eggroll wrappers rather than the traditional heavier pastry shell. Their vegetarian version is filled with a puree of potatoes and peas, and attractively presented with mint and tamarind chutneys.
If the spice is heating up a bit too much, cool down with a Mango Lassi, a smoothie made with tangy thick yogurt and ripe mango. Served in a large milkshake glass, this creamy, sweet treat was the perfect balance to all the heat from the meal.
Casual enough for a family dinner, yet classy enough for date night, Sultan’s winning combination of authentic Indian fare, dressed up presentation, and attentive service make this an oasis in a neighborhood that diners typically walk briskly by. And with lunch buffet for a mere $10.95, you can feast and still count your riches on the way out.
340 O’Farrell St
(between Mason St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
Monday-Sunday, 11:30 am-2:30 pm; 5:00 pm-10:00 pm