Bibi’s Burger Bar
630 3rd Street
Santa Rosa, Calif.
11:30-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday
11:30-10 p.m. Friday & Saturday
If you’re in downtown Santa Rosa and looking for a casual place to get a bite, Bibi’s Burger Bar is the perfect spot to share a meal with family and friends. Locally-owned by the Chandi Hospitality Group, Bibi’s offers indoor-outdoor seating and a variety of burgers, including the all-American classic bacon-cheeseburger, but there are other options that offer a unique take on the classic such as the Thai burger, served with chili-lemongrass coleslaw, and the Smokey, topped with bacon and smoked gouda. There’s also a vegetarian option—the potato tiki burger. I’ve tried it once before, and it’s one of those rare veggie burgers that’s bursting with flavor and has a satisfying mouth-feel.
The restaurant opened two years ago, and was named in honor of the family’s late grandmother, Bibi, the matriarch, who was originally from Jalandhar, India. “Bibi believed family is everything,” says Ren Chandi, executive vice president of Chandi Hospitality Group. Bibi was also a vegetarian who loved spicy-sweet flavors, so as a nod to their grandmother, the family began introducing their secret Indian street food menu during the holidays, and now the secret menu isn’t so secret and for good reason.
Alex and I ventured in on a Wednesday evening. He’s relatively new to the Indian food scene, but is always game to try new flavors and textures. As for me, I love Indian food and introduced my sons early on to chicken tikka, but over the years they’ve ventured beyond their childhood favorite. And now as young men, when they’re home visiting, ordering “takeout” is code for Indian food.
Our host for the evening is Daniel Luevano, the general manager, who asks about our preferences, but we agree to let him lead the way. He brings two cocktails—the Effen Sparkler and the Rye Not? The sparkler is a mix of Effen Black Cherry Vodka, lemon and raspberry puree and the Rye Not is made with Bulleit Rye Whiskey and ginger beer, both were surprisingly refreshing. While we enjoy our cocktails, Luevano brings three appetizers from the Indian street food menu.
We begin with the paani-puri shooters. The shooters are served in shot glasses on a tray, and each glass is topped with a bite-sized round puris filled with steamed sprouted moong beans and tiny garbanzas (chana) served with a ginger-minty water (paani). The presentation is spectacular. “This is something they do back home in India, ” says Chandi. “People sell it on wagons.” The shooters are exotic and have an unusual heat. They’re also fun to try and it seemed a healthful start to the meal. Next, we tried the traditional vegetable samosas, stuffed with savory, spiced roasted cumin-infused potatoes and green peas, and served with tamarind and green chutneys. We both preferred dipping the samosas in each of the sauces before biting in. Finally, we tried the bhel puri, which is an Indian street food classic. This dish is made with puffed rice, flour crisps (puris), crunchy chickpea noodles, cilantro and onions and is tossed with tamarind and green chutneys. The bhel puri is airy goodness, brimming with flavor and has a great texture.
For the entrees, there are four options—all dosas. A dosa is an Indian crepe made with rice and lentils, so we ordered the chicken tikka and paneer, which is an Indian cheese with seasoned potatoes, onions and herbs. The dosas are enormous and the perfect size to share, if you like. Each is served with lentil soup as well as coconut chutney and a spicy gun-powder chutney for those who want some heat. The lentil soup was perfect on a cold Sonoma County night, and the dosas were hearty, savory and satisfying. What’s great about Indian street food is that it’s filling comfort food much like American fare, so bring a hearty appetite to the table.
For dessert, we enjoyed both options on the menu. The falooda kulfi is a homemade Indian ice cream, garnished with thin noodles sweet basil seeds and rose syrup. The gulab jamun is a classic Indian dessert of milk-based round doughnuts served in warm syrup. After I sampled two bites, Alex commandeered the gulab jamun, and I polished off the falooda kulfi, my favorite. Next time, you’re in the mood for a burger or looking for a casual dining adventure, try Bibi’s Burger Bar, which offers something for everyone.
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