Few Tucson restaurant openings have been more anticipated than Twisted Tandoor’s brick and mortar location. In 2015, Mukhi and Roop Singh were on the verge of opening the restaurant that would allow them to expand their wildly popular food truck’s menu and bring their family’s take on traditional Indian food to a larger community. Mukhi’s death the day they were set to open put those plans on hold, as the community mourned the loss of a beloved man.
Two years later, with the help of JAM Restaurant Concepts, Roop has seen her and Mukhi’s dreams for a brick and mortar space become reality. The restaurant is spacious, with chic décor and an open kitchen that Singh says recreates some of the feeling of the food truck. Twisted Tandoor’s new location comes with another change: “We used to cook the food ourselves, and now someone else does,” says Singh. “We’re trying to get the food to how I make it, and it’s getting there,” she says. Still, “You can make the same recipe, but when somebody else makes it, it’s going to taste just a little bit different.
“We always had one-on-one interaction and knew everyone’s names when they came back to the truck,” says Singh, so she makes sure to greet guests when they come through the door, if she can. Perhaps the biggest change Twisted Tandoor has undergone is marked by the smiling portrait of Mukhi that hangs on a wall overlooking the dining room.
One thing that hasn’t changed: Singh’s dedication to serving traditional dishes reminiscent of what she ate growing up in a Punjabi family living near New Delhi. She says when people eat her food, they’re “surprised that it’s not that hot, but Indian food isn’t really all that hot.” She says, “It really depends on where you’re from and what your palate allows.” Instead of ordering a dish spiced mild, medium, or hot, Singh says in India people order the food that matches their palate: “You don’t want a lot of heat, you order a different dish.”
We started out our meal with the Amritsari Fish appetizer ($10), a tender white fish fried in chickpea batter, served with a mint and cilantro green chutney and a relish of red onions and tomatoes. The chickpea flour used in the batter is made from the gram chickpea, which Singh says has a nuttier flavor than its well-known beige cousin.
Paapdi Chaat ($6) is Twisted Tandoor’s take on a traditional Indian street food, featuring thick wheat flour crisps piled with kabuli chickpeas, roasted red potatoes, yogurt, and a sweet-and-savory chutney. “What makes this dish,” she says, “is the sauces and the yogurt,” and she’s right. Think super nachos, Indian style. The savory green chutney plays against the tangy sweetness of the tamarind chutney, and every bite is a messy, multi-textured delight.
Twisted Tandoor now offers a cocktail menu. Singh says one of her favorites is the Tandoori Flower ($10), an elegant floral cocktail that is as pleasant to look at as it is to drink. A blend of rosewater and hibiscus results in a drink that is sweet without being saccharine, with an enthralling scent and complex flavor.
For our entree, we went with something more familiar: Twisted Tandoor’s Chicken Tikka Masala, with its creamy orange sauce, tender chicken, fluffy rice, and red onion relish. I was surprised to learn from Singh that Tikka Masala is not actually a dish you’d be likely to find in India; it’s thought to have originated in the U.K., though it does bear some similarities to the traditional Indian Butter Chicken. Singh says the first time she ever made the dish was for the food truck, and she credits Tikka Masala with being a gateway food for people unfamiliar with Indian cuisine.
As for Twisted Tandoor’s original location, Singh says the truck is currently parked, excepting the occasional catering gig. Luckily, there’s now a way to get your Twisted Tandoor fix any day of the week. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11am to 9pm, and Friday through Saturday, 11am to 10pm.
4660 East Camp Lowell Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85712