The first course at Bombay Food Junkies includes the bhel (left), the sev puri (right) and the chaat (center).
“All you can eat” are four words you rarely see on a menu of locally sourced, made-from-scratch, vegetarian cuisine. But at Bombay Food Junkies
(3580 Adie Road, St. Ann
), owners Sid and Krupa Panchal are skipping the buffet and bringing an all-you-can-eat Indian concept fresh and right to your table.
The Panchals have run a food truck using that same name for three years. A brick-and-mortar restaurant was never really part of their plan.
But when a space opened up next to the commercial kitchen in St. Ann they had been using as a commissary for their truck, the couple took another chance and starting doing a limited dinner service back in November.
The concept is different from other “all you can eat” establishments. There is no buffet line and patrons can’t pick and choose from offerings and then pile it up their plates. Instead, the Panchals bring out three courses of four items each in smaller portion sizes so that guests can try everything. After you’ve tried everything, you can ask for more. It's kind of like dim sum, only with a flat rate (just $12.99).
“The menu that you see here is a very unique menu," explains Sid Panchal. "You will not find these items in any other restaurant. For us to give someone a menu and say, ‘Hey, pick from here,’ it makes it hard because they don’t know what they’re going to get. This way they don’t have to pick and choose. You can eat everything and then whatever is your favorite you can order two times, three times, however many times you want.”
Both members of the husband-and-wife ownership team were born and raised in Bombay and then moved to the U.S. in the early 2000s to further their studies. Before they were cooks, Krupa Panchal worked as an optometrist, later earning a master’s in gerontology, while Sid Panchal got a degree in computer engineering followed by an MBA. But once the couple had their daughter, Krupa took a break from optometry and focused on a new goal.
Photo by Emily Higginbotham
The Bombay Food Junkies truck is parked outside the Panchals' restaurant.
“I was always passionate—both of us are—about food,” Krupa says. “All during my pregnancy I craved the food I grew up on, but I had to make it. There was no one selling it here in St. Louis.”
The couple took inspiration from the Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race.
India's thriving street food scene also suggested exciting possibilities.
“I went back to India and did my research. I just stood near the stalls and observed what they were making, what spices they were using and things like that,” Krupa says.
Those dishes are now a big part of the draw at their brick-and-mortar restaurant. The first course is made up of four starters inspired by street food: the bhel, the sev puri, the chaat of the day and the salad of the day. The bhel is a mix of crispy rice puffs, potatoes, onion and chutney, topped with thin, crunchy chickpea noodles and cilantro, while the sev puri is an hors d'oeuvre-type dish of flat crackers topped with potato, onions, a tangy chutney and thin chickpea noodles. The chaat, which Panchal says means “burst of flavor,” is different for every dinner service.
On our recent trip trip, the chaat was the bahi papdi—a chilled, tangy yogurt soup with chickpeas and potatoes. The first course concluded with a peanut carrot salad.
The dining room is bright and colorful.
The second course features Indian-Chinese fusion. The first dish is a light, fluffy fritter called a Manchurian, which is made with cabbage and carrots and sautéed in a garlic soy sauce. Along with the fritter, guests are offered street-style stir-fried noodles and a rice of the day.
The third course centers around bread items, which the Panchals bake from scratch. “Bombay is a port of entry. A lot of Western people entered Bombay through it and that’s why the street food is very much influenced by the Western people and the Western culture. That’s why we have a lot of bread items,” Krupa explains.
The third course includes the Pav Bhaji, a tomato-based vegetable soup served with a toasted roll.
On our visit, we were served three sandwiches and one stew: a chutney sandwich, a sandwich with a spiced potato patty with peanut garlic chutney, and a wrap stuffed with cubed Indian cheese, peppers and marinated onions. The Pav Bhaji, or vegetable stew, was a thick, tomato-based soup served with another piece of toasted bread that you can use to sop up the stew.
After trying all of the dishes, diners can ask for more of whatever they want without limit. However, if they’re already stuffed they can go ahead with the dessert: vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry syrup, almonds, basil seeds and crispy noodles.
While crafting their menu, the Panchals wanted to cater to all palates and tastes, particularly when it came to the level of spice they used in the dishes. Instead of using a heavy hand with the spices, they allow the diners to control the level of spice by offering a jalapeno and cilantro chutney as well as a Szechuan sauce to add more heat to the dishes. Before serving the guests, servers ask about food allergies so the Panchals can make the dishes to every customer’s need — even vegan or gluten-free.
“We try to give something that’s heart-friendly, that’s local, that has a lot of flavors,” Krupa says. “We are trying to get this message across that vegetarian can be good, healthy and filling.”
The meal is capped off with a refreshing dessert: vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry syrup, almonds, basil seeds and noodles.
Bombay Food Junkies is currently open just three nights a week: Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, from 5 to 9 p.m. But if you're looking to try their food and that time doesn't work, there's always the food truck. Follow them on Twitter
for more details on both.