Pakwan: Pakistani Indian Restaurant in San Francisco

Dinner at Pakwan Restaurant on O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, California
Dinner at Pakwan Restaurant on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco, California

Pakwan is an authentic Pakistani Indian restaurant with locations in the San Francisco Bay area. When opened in 1991, Pakwan’s mission was to use authentic recipes of the Indian subcontinent, featuring unique blends of Indian spices and traditional cooking techniques.

Thanks to their tireless efforts and devotion, Pakwan swiftly gained a reputation as the go-to destination for authentic and traditional Pakistani Indian cuisine in the Bay Area. The restaurant attracts locals, tourists, families, and business workers alike.

Today, Pakwan operates five restaurants in the Bay Area. There are three locations in San Francisco and another two in the East Bay in Fremont and Hayward.

On my recent visit to San Francisco, I stopped by their location on O’Farrell Street, not far from Union Square.

Interior of Pakwan Restaurant

Open interior of the restaurant
Open interior of the restaurant

As soon as I walked in, the aroma of grilled meats and vegetables hit me, making me even hungrier than before. Another thing I noticed was how busy it was for a Monday night. Almost every table was taken by customers. With the restaurant being so busy, and the aromas filling the air, I was excited to try the food.

Despite the dark painted walls and ceilings, the space felt bright and open thanks to its high ceilings, large windows, and ample lighting in the open dining room. While the décor was basic, it was clear to me that the true highlight of the experience would be the food.

Although I visited at night, I could tell that the restaurant’s corner location would allow for plenty of natural light during the day.

Open interior
Open interior

Although I wouldn’t describe the atmosphere as lively, I could hear sounds from the open kitchen situated on the far side of the dining room. And, in the background, music was playing softly.

Pakwan Restaurant Menu

The first page of the menu at Pakwan Restaurant, San Francisco, California
The first page of the menu at Pakwan Restaurant

The thing that surprised me the most about Pakwan was the sheer number of items on their menu. Whether you wanted meat, vegetarian dishes, or sides, there was something for everyone.

For those with dietary restrictions, be sure to look for menu items marked Gluten Free (GF), Dairy Free (DF), Vegetarian, or Vegan.

On the first page of the Pakwan menu, you will find a variety of options such as appetizers, vegetarian dishes, chicken dishes, biryani, and meat dishes with lamb, beef, and goat.

The second page of the menu
The second page of the menu

On the second page of the Pakwan menu, you’ll find tandoori (BBQ) items, wraps, sides, desserts, and naan. When it comes to drinks, your options include a mango-yogurt-milk drink, chai tea, soda, and bottled water.

If you have trouble reading the menu above, you can view the full menu at https://pakwanrestaurant.com/oferrell/

Chutneys

Green Chutney and Tamarind Chutney
Green Chutney and Tamarind Chutney

The small fridge near the cashier, which was easy to miss, contained bottles of green chutney and tamarind chutney. Chutney is a condiment that originated in India. It is used as a dipping sauce or accompaniment to main dishes, appetizers, or snacks.

The green chutney at Pakwan was simple yet bursting with flavor. It was creamy, bright, refreshing, and had a slight kick of heat, possibly from jalapenos. I want to say I could taste the freshness of cilantro and mint. I also think there was some yogurt and lime in it too. This stuff was so good, I could have drank it out of the bottle.

I believe the other bottle was a tamarind chutney which had an unfamiliar taste to me. This chutney had a thicker consistency than the green chutney. Its flavor was both sweet and sour, with a fruity and tangy aftertaste.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala, Pakwan Restaurant, San Francisco, California
Chicken Tikka Masala

Although the menu offered several appealing options, some of which I had never tried before, I ended up selecting Chicken Tikka Masala ($12.99). Chicken Tikka Masala is a dish with Indian and British origins. It consists of boneless white chicken meat cooked in a creamy tomato-based sauce with a blend of spices. Due to its history of colonization, one of the most iconic dishes in the United Kingdom is Chicken Tikka Masala.

The tikka masala sauce served at Pakwan had a thick consistency similar to a gravy. It had a distinct curry flavor which was salty and rich. I don’t know everything that went into the tomato-based sauce, but if I had to guess, I would say garam masala, cumin, and turmeric.

The sauce contained boneless chicken breast pieces of varying sizes, some larger and some smaller. Although I expected the chicken to be grilled, I don’t think this was the case. It seemed as though the chicken had been cooked in the stew until it was almost falling apart, yet still retained its texture. Although not the most succulent chicken, it wasn’t overly dry either. While the chicken’s flavor was simple, it paired well with the sauce.

Although the dish looked unassuming and the chicken was slightly overcooked, I still enjoyed the rich and tangy flavors of the sauce. If you are seeking a simple yet familiar dish, the Chicken Tikka Masala is an excellent choice.

Garlic Naan

Garlic Naan, Pakwan Restaurant, San Francisco, California
Garlic Naan

To me, there’s no better pairing for Chicken Tikka Masala than naan. Naan is a popular type of flatbread in Indian cuisine that is often made with flour and baked in a tandoor oven. Although the menu offered several variations of naan, I opted for the Garlic Naan ($3.49) made with fresh garlic and parsley.

After being prepared fresh and cooked in a tandoor oven, the naan had a crispy, charred exterior with air bubbles that reminded me of thin-crust pizza. The interior of the flatbread remained soft and chewy with a smoky flavor from the oven.

Topping the naan was minced garlic and a few pieces of parsley. The garlic provided a spicy kick that I enjoyed. But, being a fan of garlic, I wanted more. The parsley, although sparse, complemented the garlic while adding a pop of color.

On its own, the naan was simple yet fresh with its garlicky flavor and soft, chewy texture. The naan truly stood out when I ripped off a piece and dipped it into the rich Chicken Tikka Masala sauce. Regardless of which dishes you select, I would recommend ordering naan as it pairs well with almost every item on the menu.

Basmati Rice

Basmati Rice, Pakwan Restaurant, San Francisco, California
Basmati Rice

For my final dish, I chose the Basmati Rice ($3.99) which was freshly prepared and lightly seasoned with cumin. As you can tell from the picture, the rice was simple. But, it was well cooked and moist. Unfortunately, even with the addition of sliced vegetables, the rice was not as flavorful and aromatic as I was hoping.

Similar to the naan, the rice was plain on its own but tasted much better when mixed with the Chicken Tikka Masala sauce. The long grains of the basmati rice absorbed the sauce, enhancing the overall flavor and elevating the dish.

So, if you are looking for an affordable and filling side dish, which pairs well with any item on the menu, then the basmati rice is an excellent option

Service

With a fast casual dining concept, customers placed orders at the cashier then waited for their names to be called out to receive their food. Therefore, I had limited interactions with the restaurant staff. Despite the limited interaction, the friendly cashier provided menu recommendations and answered questions I had about their sauces.

While the cashier and chefs in the kitchen worked diligently, table cleaning was not a priority on my visit. This resulted in many tables being left with dirty plates long after customers finished their meals. While this was not a problem for me, with limited tables, I could see how it could be an issue.

Conclusion

Pakwan Restaurant wasn’t originally on my list of places to try in San Francisco. But, I’m glad I stumbled upon this fast casual Pakistani Indian spot after visiting a nearby bar.

Pakistani and Indian cuisine is relatively new to me. Its unique flavors brought back memories of my travels to Turkey and the Mediterranean.

Although a fast casual restaurant, Pakwan’s food was anything but ordinary. Dishes used fresh and flavorful ingredients, and I could tell they were prepared with care. The Chicken Tikka Masala was packed with rich, curry flavor. The freshly baked garlic naan was bursting with garlicky goodness. To top it off, the basmati rice brought all the dishes together.

Despite my limited knowledge of Pakistani and Indian cuisine, discovering Pakwan Restaurant was a pleasant surprise. And, I would not hesitate to return on my next visit to San Francisco.

Pros

  • Extensive menu
  • Fresh and flavorful dishes
  • Open late
  • Friendly service

Cons

  • Basic décor
  • Table cleaning was not a priority
  • Chicken slightly overcooked

Hours

Monday-Sunday: 11:00AM-11:00PM

Address

501 O'Farrell St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
GPS Coordinates: 37.78567,-122.41319

Map



Website

https://pakwanrestaurant.com/

Last Updated on July 18, 2023

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