Rethink Regional Indian Cuisine at Emeryville’s Pippal

Bringing along a friend who claims to “not like Indian food” was my particular challenge when dining at Pippal restaurant in Emeryville. Wait. Let me reframe the issue. As someone who writes often about restaurants, I enjoy trafficking in the “no,” exposing those claims of “dislike” and “can’t stand” and turning it around into a “Wow, I did not know X cuisine or ingredient could taste that good.” Reframing was required during this experience at Pippal, the latest restaurant from the team behind ROOH.

What is Modern, Regional Indian Cuisine?

Where ROOH is progressive Indian with a modern bent and inclusion in San Francisco’s 2023 Michelin guide, Pippal is a modern regional Indian newcomer. Focus on regional. Much of the menu – Litti Chokha, mutton laal maas, Gongura chicken, Rajmah Galuti, others – were utterly unfamiliar, dishes that hail from among hundreds of the subcontinent’s subcultures. Like the Home space on a Monopoly board, dal, pulao, biryani, naan, butter chicken felt like the safe orders, familiar fare that inhabits many Indian menus around the world.

But chef Rahul adds interesting, elevated touches to the most pedestrian items. Witness lacha paratha. The layered flatbread arrived glistening with ghee, whirled into a spiral.  Tear a piece off to reveal glistening layers akin to laminated dough and a buttery aroma familiar to any Francophile.  If this is what bread can be, who cares what it is called?

What To Eat at Pippal

I thought Marsala Fryums might be a safe place to start, crispy wafers with a familiar trio of chutney and yogurt dipping sauces.  Made of lentil and rice and wheat flours and flash-fried, fryums are elevated chips, the wheel or star patterns and colorful assortment a visual treat to swipe through the tamarind chutney. “These are addicting, like an Indian Dorito,” my dining companion enthused.

A plate of Tunday Kebab, or minced goat, arrived. A patty, much like a ground beef burger, was perched atop a soft paratha. This is a kebab? I must cast aside my Mediterranean vision and rethink “kebab” to its more inclusive meaning: “meat, fish or vegetables, roasted or grilled on a skewer.” Its texture soft, its spirit multiculti, I wished for more than the garnish’s spritz of mint chutney and pickled onion – the better to cut enliven the flavor and too-soft texture of the dish. Maybe a second bun to give it more of that cross-over, burger appeal?

Prawn Pepper Fry, the prawns nearly the size of my hand, was bathed in a full-bodied sauce, thick with onions and tomato. No fire alarms, just warm spices and enough pepper to make the name believable. Too, Burrah Kebab – lamb chops – were warmly spiced, each chop graced with a thick slice of chile available to enhance the experience.

Tandoori Fruit Chaat was our least favorite dish of the night, the apple slivers and pear rounds out of synch in size, acid, and flavor. We fared better with Mutton Laal Maas, a small pot of sheep stew, the sauce red with chile. Rip off a piece of the sweet paratha, yellow and fragrant as fresh cornbread, and scoop up the addictive sauce. Alleppy Fish & Prawn Curry was similarly well-received, the sauce extra-creamy from coconut milk and additional fresh coconut meat. It was impossible to stop eating.

idli served in a wire bicycle sculpture with a basket on the back


Last but not least, idli, little round cakes of fermented rice and lentil, a traditional street food of Bombay and, I am told, widely eaten for breakfast around southern India. Placed inside a wire basket atop a wire, three-wheeled bicycle, and dressed with chile, gunpowder spice mix (more chile!) and curry leaves, they were a perfect dessert of sorts, a savory-sweet ending delivered with a touch of cute. And my friend, she of the “I don’t like Indian food?” “This dinner completely changed my mind about what Indian food could be,” she said. “I’ll be back.”

Is It Worth It?

interior bar with lighted honeycomb cubbies at Pippal restaurant in Emeryville

Bar at Pippal

Breads start at $6. Snacks, pao, and kebabs range from $14 to $28. Mains and biryani range from $16 to $32. The interior feels date-night special with thoughtful lighting on each table, an architectural bar design and golden accents throughout. Located on the second level of Emeryville’s Bay Street shopping center, the outside seating area is organized around a large, central fireplace protected from wind. And the restaurant’s front glass wall folds back, allowing the entire restaurant to experience a day’s warm breezes. During spring and summer, the Bay Center’s courtyard, shared with surrounding restaurants, are sure to be a draw with ample, garage parking.

Next time, I’d like to try more of the vegetarian dishes such as eggplant and lentils. As seen from my seat at the table, the possibilities for regional Indian cuisine in the hands of competent restaurateurs and their chef are endless and exciting.


Christina Mueller is a lifestyle journalist and restaurant consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Christina Mueller head shot, photo taken at Lazy Bear restaurant, San Francisco_photo credit Stefan Welter