Indian-born Vinod Venkataraman is an international polymath. He’s a classically trained jazz drummer. He’s studied mathematics and medicine, starting his own medical practice in Los Angeles. If the overwhelming praise for his Indian-Mexican fusion cafe on the ground floor of a Long Beach medical building is any indication, he’s a decent cook, too.
The man who goes by “V.R.” opened Appu’s Cafe as a way to retire from his career in medicine. He used advice long-extolled to former patients in crafting the simple, all-vegetarian menu that reads as East-meets-West, without the meat: oatmeal and masala omelets on the breakfast side, samosa chaat and cheese quesadillas for lunch. Rich soups range from a classic mulligatawny to both black and yellow lentils, to which he adds extra ginger when the doctors upstairs (including his wife, who has a practice at Woodruff) tell him the flu is making its way around. Rather than cook with the season’s produce, he cooks for the season’s illnesses.
Perhaps his most sought-after item is his “Maharaja” burrito, where turmeric rice, pilaf, lentils, and saag paneer get a coat of “special sauce” before being rolled up. It earned the top spot for California on Insider’s Best Burrito in Every State list. For what it’s worth, the cafe itself winds up on Yelp’s 100 Best Restaurants year after year.
Opening the cafe, he told OC Weekly, was always on his bucket list. “Next, I want to write a cookbook,” he said, “and at 70, I want to bungee jump from a plane.” The sky is the limit.
Know Before You Go
There is no outdoor signage for Appu's Cafe. To get in, drive around the building and follow signs from the back door.