If Akbar in Arcadia, reviewed on Page 106, sounds delicious but too far away, here are a few recently reviewed Indian restaurants that might be closer to home. GAURANGA'S (285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (714) 494-7029). A small restaurant with maybe two dozen tiny tables, Gauranga's offers a strict dietary menu, Hare Krishna style. No meat, fish or eggs--in fact, no non-dairy animal products at all. Indian flavored fare include a potato and cauliflower subji that's tasty. Also noteworthy are the fritters, known as pakoras , which come in various configurations. The buffet deals are economical, and it's a good place to dine if you're in the mood to experiment. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat. No credit cards. Some street parking. No alcohol. All you can eat buffet, $5 lunch, $6 dinner, senior citizens $3.
INDIA'S OVEN (5897 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 936-1000). You eat on paper plates--with plastic forks (or, better yet, your fingers). Beverages are served in plastic cups. But once you get past the rather utilitarian ambiance, you find yourself eating some of the finest Indian food in town. As you might guess from looking at the name, everything that comes out of the tandoor is superb. But the restaurant also does a good job with vegetarian dishes like roasted eggplant, dal and raita . Lunch and dinner daily. No credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $8-$15.
KASHMIR INTERNATIONAL (80 N. Fair Oaks, Pasadena, (818) 405-9060). An unpretentious suburban restaurant specializing in tandoori dishes and fragrant exotic breads, this place brings a wide array of cultures and cuisines to the dining table. The food is solid and hearty. Roghan josh (curried lamb cooked with ginger, garlic, coriander and a bouquet of other herbs) is done superbly here. Mainstream Indian dishes are well treated; the tandoori meats and breads are just wonderful. Also mentionable is tandoori chargha, a whole spring chicken marinated in lemon juice and plunged whole into the tandoor. The kheer khas (rice pudding) simply must be tried. Lunch and dinner daily. Diners Club. Beer and wine. Some validated parking. Dinner for two, food only, $25-$40.
KINGSLEY GARDEN (4070 West 3rd St., Los Angeles, (213) 389-5527). A health-conscious Mexican and Indian restaurant that serves "natural vegetarian" fare made without animal or dairy products, salt, sugar, added oils or preservatives. The dining room has a certain homey charm; it's informal and quietly attractive. The Kingsley Garden salad bar offers, among other things, an exotic variety of sprouts. There is a cashew coleslaw, freshly made guacamole and all sorts of organically grown vegetables. The traditional dressings are replaced with mixtures made of carrot and tahini, sesame and chickpea, tomato and ginger and others. Altogether, Kingley's is a wholesome experience. Lunch and dinner daily. No smoking. V, MC. Dinner for two, food only, $10-$20.
NIZAM (10871 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 470-1441). You want an exotic appetizer? Order up dal papri, a fried wafer made of white and lentil flours. The crunchy wafer is broken into chips, combined with potatoes, onion and cilantro and covered with cool yogurt. For non-curry buffs, the fish badami is a subtle presentation of tender white fish in a delicate cream sauce flavored with cashew and almond paste, whole black cardamom and other exotic spices. Many of the creations here are unique and eagerly await the Indian foodie. Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5:30-11 p.m. V, MC, AE. Parking on street or in lot. Beer and Wine. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$30.
SHER-E PUNJAB (5370 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 933-2031). Sher-e means tiger, and if you're near Wilshire Boulevard's Miracle Mile, this is a tiger worth trying. It is a friendly, reasonably priced neighborhood Indian restaurant. A good entree here is ginger kebab, a chicken dish whose intense flavor penetrates well into the meat. Four styles of curry are offered, made either with chicken, beef or lamb. Another dish to look for is bengan bhartha (roasted eggplant cooked with curry sauce), which is fluffy in texture, and resembles a vegetable souffle. Post meal treats (especially on a cold night) include the milky, sweet, spiced Indian tea. Lunch and dinner Mon.-Sat., dinner Sun. All major credit cards. Beer and wine. Parking in lot. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$25.