Besharam (San Francisco, CA) – The name alone sold me on visiting this restaurant. Besharam means “shameless” in Urdu, and it’s obviously meant to be cheeky. I was browsing through my emails a couple of months back, and I came across the press announcement of Besharam. I was really intrigued by the fact that the menu would bring a spin on Gujarati flavors to the Bay Area (which I’ve never had), and that the chef of the restaurant is a woman! I’m always really excited for women owned businesses – especially women of color. Chef Heena Patel comes from the food incubator La Cocina.
The restaurant is located at the Minnesota Street Project, which also has art galleries in its space. But the restaurant itself has some awesome artwork itself. That giant mural along the back wall in the open concept restaurant is by one of my favorite artists @hatecopy a.k.a. Maria Qamar. I’ve pretty much been following her since the beginning when her Lichtenstein inspired art pieces started appearing on the internet. Her art is is super relatable to the South Asian community – they’re so funny and quippy and always on point. It’s so cool to see her do these big things like painting murals and the plates at this restaurant! So between the name, the unique spins on familiar foods (to me), and the art meant that I HAD TO GO.
After visiting 29 Rooms (which you can see on my IGTV channel *shameless plug heh*), we were starving! I had initially wanted to go to Besharam for brunch, but an early dinner seemed like the perfect opportunity too. I don’t eat dinner this early (like at 5:30/6 PM), but after 3 hours of sweating in the Palace of Fine Arts, I was so ready to eat all the things.
We came at the perfect time because the restaurant wasn’t too full and it was super easy to find parking. We sat down on one of the communal tables, which was cool. Our host and waitress was super friendly and the waitress was chatting with everyone throughout the night. It really added to the relaxed and fun vibe. I was a little sad that they switched back to American music from Bollywood songs a little while after we walked in though.
The menu changes a little, so you won’t always get the same items each time. But the essentials are the same – such as the Blue Cheese Naan, Bhajias (fritters), and Curry/Salaans (usually a meat with a gravy sauce). The menu is fun to me because there’s street food on the menu, some more mainstream dishes like kababs, and then home cooking all mixed together. The dishes are family style, so my sister and I just picked a few things we sounded good and shared it. One order of everything was perfect for two people.
First up is the Shakarpara. Growing up, I ate plenty of Namakpara – it’s crunchy, fried pieces of bread, almost like a chip. It’s salty and it’s an addicting snack, and often eaten with chai. I was curious about Shakarpara because Shakar means sugar, so these were a sweet version, which comes from Gujarati cuisine. The menu describes it as “sweet and salty biscuits with a drizzle of honey”. And that was a very apt description! Just like the salty version, these were pretty addicting – it was fun to get a mix of the powdered sugar with the honey and then the crunch of the fried dough. These also came in handy later during the meal because the food is spicy! This is coming from someone who has grown up on spicy food – “spicy food for spicy girls” is very appropriate for Besharam.
We also ordered the Sev Puri, which the menu describes as “Crisp crackers, chutneys, and sev”. Sev Puri is a type of chaat, which is a street snack you can get in South Asia. I love chaat, so this was a no-brainer. I would describe chaat as kind of like nachos – you have the puri rounds (fried dough, kind of like a cracker or a chip) and then you pile on the toppings onto it and eat it! For this Sev Puri, the puris were loaded with potatoes, onions, chutneys (spicy and sweet), cilantro, and sev (seasoned crunchy chickpea flour noodles).
This seriously hit the spot after a long, fun day of being on my feet. It’s such a fun dish because you get so much flavor in each bite – and you have to stuff your face so you don’t drop all of the food. Also it was kind of hilarious sitting at the communal table because we as one of the few brown people in the restaurant were using our hands while others were using their utensils. It was very automatic, but that’s how our food is enjoyed! Anyway, back to the Sev Puri – you get crunch, the softness of the potatoes, sweet, salty, freshness from the cilantro. There’s a lot to take in in one bite and it’s amazing.
We also ordered the Maru Bhajias, which are seasonal vegetable fritters served with roasted tomato-pepper salsa. In Urdu and Punjabi we refer to these fritters as Pakoras, but the names are both understood throughout South Asia. Again – fried foods, what’s not to love? You’ve likely seen Pakoras pop up on my blog or social media before, especially during Ramadan – it’s a common dish served to break fast in Pakistan. The Bhajias/Pakoras are vegetables in a chickpea flour batter with seasoning and then deep fried. Among our vegetables were eggplants and mushrooms. These also always hit the spot because you eat them quickly like chips – and it’s one of the ways I could eat vegetables easily haha. I did not enjoy the salsa though – it didn’t fit with the dish, in my opinion. It served it’s purpose in making sure you had a sauce to dip it in and help cut the spice (there is definitely heat in it), but I don’t feel like the flavors matched. I would have wanted a chutney instead.
As for our drinks, my sister ordered some tea – mostly because we were hoping we would get a tea cup and saucer set that was designed by HateCopy lol. Alas it came in a regular cup. I ordered the Turmeric Lemonade, though I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if it would be too spicy. Turmeric is a really strong flavor and as I suspected it was turmeric heavy with some ginger, so it was all heat, barely sweet, and no sour. The waitress told me they would make a new one if I didn’t like it – which they did, and it was a little better, but I think it’s just something I’ve decided I didn’t like in general – nothing against the restaurant! I probably would’ve just stuck with an Arnold Palmer next time.
Since we ordered a bunch of appetizers, we stuck to one entree and rice. We ordered the Pepper Chicken, which is cumin chicken in a black pepper sauce and served with curry leaf rice. The chicken was so tender and soaked up the sauce really well – loved the cumin popping out with all of the other Indian flavors. I actually ended up liking the rice more than the chicken though! It was really soft and fluffy, and had that aromatic taste of the curry leaf. I would’ve just eaten that bowl by myself.
I do think we should’ve tried the Fish Moilee, which is fish in a coconut curry, served with turmeric rice and shishito peppers. It looked really good judging from the people next to us – I guess this means we’ll just have to come back!
Besharam was a great dining experience – loved chill, communal vibe and all of the flavors! This is (obviously) legit Indian food and I highly recommend everyone trying it. It would be super cool of Besharam became a permanent spot somewhere in SF – it’s menu is unique in comparison to the more high scale Indian restaurants popping up.