We were in the mood for some chicken tikka masala and our local go-to was closed (we’d missed lunch and was too early for dinner). On a late afternoon run to Alhambra we came across Hot Red Bus, “L. A.’s first British Indian chip shop.” We thought the combo of Brit and Indian might satisfy.
And, yes, it did.
We like places like this—kind of punk with aspects of the chillin’ college student, a bit rough around the edges while also industrial creative (check out the paper towel roll) and industrial mod (metal bright red stools). And, thankfully, the women behind the counter were wonderfully helpful with all the questions: What’s “doner”? And “Punjabe chole”?
For our readers sakes, we indulged profusely—and now have leftovers for days (a brilliant plan!).
First up, chicken tikka masala with huge side salad. Over a dozen large chunks of chicken filled the paper tray; basmati rice nestled underneath. This was smothered in masala sauce with HRB’s version of raita squirted on top. The masala was darker than other masalas we’ve enjoyed and the flavor was more complex and rich as well; the chicken moist and quite tender. The side salad (a meal in itself) consisted of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red and white cabbage, and pickled cucumbers and onions. Again, with a topping of raita. HRB’s raita tastes predominately like plain yogurt, missing the noticeable taste of cumin and cilantro—and personally, we prefer raita with chunks of cucumber, yet the salad is a good balance with the flavorful masala.
Secondly, we chose to sample Hot Red Bus’s doner, which is a combination of beef and lamb made on a vertical rotisserie, much like shawarma and gyro meat. It was perfectly tender, and did have a particular similar to shawarma and gyro meat, but spices all its own. The Pita was divinely fresh and fluffy, and the wrap included shredded cabbage, sweet pickled onion and cucumbers, and raita. To our taste, the sour of the yogurt combined with the sour of the pickled items created a bit of a one note simplicity.
Thirdly, we hit pay dirt: One-piece of sustainably raised swai fish (native to Southeast Asia, like catfish we’re told) with chips. The filet of swai was impressively large and cooked to perfection—moist yet flaky. The batter seemed like tempura, light, crispy and crunchy. It was simply delicious. Served with a side of homemade tartar sauce, pickled onions (nice addition), and a slice of lemon. The chips are made from Kennebec potatoes. We had to look those up.
Though rarely seen in grocery stores the light tan, thin-skinned potato is widely grown, having been introduced in the ’40s by a USDA in search of a good frying spud. Its minimal water quantity makes for a particularly firm fried product that browns beautifully. Flavorwise the Kennebec’s vivid, almost nutty essence makes it taste more like a potato than most potatoes do.
—”Kennebec, the New ‘It’ Potato” by Kathryn Robinson, SeattleMet.com
We’re glad we found Robinson’s quote because we were wondering why these chips were outstanding delicious. Dense, crispy, hefty. And the flavor is more potato-y, as though eating the whole potato, skin included. We polished those off despite our array of food options.
We ordered, as well, every sauce we could, just to try them. So in addition to the tartare and raita, we asked for a side of Bombay ketchup and vindaloo (spicy and less so). The Bombay ketchup is interesting. It was described as curry ketchup and definitively is an acquired taste. Our Kennebecs were calling for the more traditional catsup we employed. The mild vindaloo popped our eyes open and caused a tear or two, so though flavorful, we did not attempt to sample the spicier version.
All in all, our side trip for tikka masala was a success, but more importantly we’ve found our go-to fish and chips joint.
On the other hand, for next time we’re eyeing the “garbanzo geezer,” which is a smash of Punjabi chole (chickpeas slow-cooked with tomato, onion, and spices), grilled mushrooms, and rice all wrapped in a pita.
Taco Tuesday has included fish tacos with spicy slaw and pulled pork vindaloo tacos with crunchy cinnamon apple slaw.
Other specials can include a curry burrito and madras chicken wrap.
Seniors: Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., fish and chips with drink offered for $4.99-$6.46.
Hot Red Bus, 31 E. Main St., Alhambra 91801. Near the corner of Main and Garfield Streets, and the Alhambra cinema complex. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tel: 1.626.576.2877. HotRedBus.com.