My first visit to a Sri Lankan restaurant.
We were in Santa Cruz visiting our college-student, and I decided to check out Malabar for the simple reason that I couldn’t ever recall having had Sri Lankan food. That turned out to not be true, I did cook Ceylonese food a couple of decades ago as part of my international food project, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an actual Sri Lankan restaurant.
Malabar’s menu is pretty short – though that may be as a result of the COVID pandemic and the current labor shortage (they’re hiring, btw) -, and features a few dishes from India and Malaysia/Singapore, in addition to Sri Lankan ones. Mains tend to average about $20. The restaurant seems to have a nice, if generic, dining room but also has a couple of tables on the sidewalk, and that’s where we ate.
We started by sharing an appetizer of vegetable roti ($9.50). This was similar to a stuffed dosa, with a filling made from leeks, potatoes and cabbage. It was pretty tasty, even if the curry sauce it came with was not as delicious as the yellow curries you often get with rotis at Thai restaurants. It also came with a spicy tomato sauce that carried a lot of heat.
For our mains, my daughter had the mixed vegetable curry (“Mixed vegetables in a Sri Lankan style coconut curry”, $17.50) and I had the Sri Lankan Yellow Curry ($19.50). Both dishes turned out to be the same yellow curry. While my daughter’s was served with large pieces of broccoli, carrots, peppers, cabbage and kale, mine had a snapper filet as the base (you can substitute for chicken or salmon at an extra cost). Unlike other curries I’ve had in the US, the filet was served whole, rather than in chunks. The curry itself was very thin (a feature it shared with the Ceylonese curry I made myself), with a pretty mild flavor. It was tasty but it lacked both the consistency and layers of flavor you get in a Thai curry, for example. Perhaps it’s best to see it as a curry soup. I’m not 100% sure that it worked that well with the snapper, but it was a pleasant enough dish to eat, even if not one I’d rush to order again. My daughter felt pretty much the same. Both dishes were served with rice, which seemed like a medium grain type, a little on the sticky side. I don’t know that I loved it.
My husband ordered the Devil Lanka with snapper ($21.50), a dish consisting of fish cooked with “cardamom, cinnamon, clove, Anaheim papers, cucumber, pineapple, curry leaves, carrots, tomato, red onion” and “served in a sweet sour and spicy tomato sauce”. He was quite happy with his dish. It wasn’t like anything he’d had before, and he liked the flavors.
Service was very good, our servers were very attentive and friendly. They do ask you to use your phone to scan a QR code to look at the menu (which is also posted outside), but when I mentioned that I didn’t have a smart phone, they brought us a paper menu. My daughter who did have a smart phone with her felt looking at the menu on the small phone screen was very difficult, so she used the paper one instead.
In all we had a very nice time, the street wasn’t very busy (though there was a fair amount of people coming in and out of the restaurant, it’s obviously popular for take out) and we felt safe eating there.
I didn't take any pictures, however (that lack of smart phone and all). Malabar Restaurant 514 Front St Santa Cruz, CA (831) 201 4438 T-Th 5pm - 9:00 pm, F 5pm - 9:30 pm, Sa-Su 12 pm - 2:30 pm and 5pm - 9:30 pm