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Yelp’s current ranking of top Coral Springs restaurants puts Arun’s Indian Kitchen at No. 16 in the entire city. The same platform, mysteriously, also placed Arun’s at No. 6 on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat 2021 — in the entire country.
Arun’s Indian Kitchen’s third storefront opened late August at 1930 NE Fifth Ave., inside Boca Raton’s 5th Avenue Shops strip mall. During a recent visit Sareen, warm and soft-spoken and working alongside his son, Yash – who’s in charge of the Boca location – sounds humble about his success but bewildered how it happened.
“It was like – I don’t know – people were taking care of me while I’m taking care of them,” Arun Sareen, 58, says. “We never said Arun’s was a fancy restaurant. We’re express Indian. I always say, ‘You come here for food, and that’s it.’ ”
Like his Coral Springs (awarded 3 1/2 stars in a 2017 Sun Sentinel review) and Lauderhill eateries, everything at Arun’s new Boca Raton location is stubbornly no-frills, with savory chicken tikka masala ($13.99) and lamb rogan josh ($13.99) entrees served on red cafeteria trays. Prices are lower than traditional Indian restaurants, and clay tandoor oven-baked garlic naan ($1.50-$2.50) and samosas ($3.99) arrive in plastic baskets. The 1,800-square-foot dining room’s arched walls are decorated in spartan white brick, and takeout orders – pre-pandemic and now – typically crush dine-in.
Taco Masala’s slim menu of nine items features customizable bowls ($7.99-$9.99) and soft whole-wheat roti tacos ($7.99-$10.99), blistered in the oven then folded and filled with chana masala, butter chicken and paneer makhana. (Lauderhill has since rebranded to Arun’s Indian Kitchen — mostly because customers wanted tacos at every Arun’s location.)
“In the end, it’s about making Indian food more accessible to the public,” Yash says. “Pizza, we understand. Chinese is everywhere. But Indian food, which belongs to the world’s second largest population, is not accepted by everybody. But everyone know tacos.”
In the kitchen, Arun often holds court behind the order window, fussing with containers of cumin and coriander seed, or stirring slow-simmering tikka masala in a skillet. Yash owns the Boca restaurant, while his sister, Aakritie, runs the Lauderhill outpost. Their mother, Anu, hopscotches around the three shops, often cooking during lunch rush.
“When I first got here, I saw cooks put oil and vegetables and immediately put on the fire,” Arun recalls. “I like letting the oil get hot first, and I use almost no water, because the meat is already 50, 60% water. That way, you keep the moisture and juices in. That’s my whole idea of cooking: it has to cook slowly.”
Arun, born in the Indian state of Punjab and raised in New Delhi, arrived in the United States in 2001, bouncing around line cook and dishwashing jobs until he scraped together enough money to open his first Indian restaurant on Sample Road in 2009. His wife and children stayed behind in India, but he mailed money back home via Western Union until they joined him in South Florida in 2011.
He sold that first restaurant in 2014 to open Indian Kichen, a name he deliberately misspelled for the sake of obtaining a website URL that ended in “.com.” (He eventually fixed the spelling during the pandemic with a new website, ArunsIndianKitchen.com.) But Arun had never wanted to put his name on the business until Yelp came knocking.
“Arun’s Indian Kitchen was named by our customers,” he says. “When people called, we just called ourselves ‘Indian Kichen,’ and they would ask, ‘OK, but is this Arun’s, or…?’ They created our Arun’s Indian Kitchen Yelp page, and lots of people came. We didn’t even know what a Yelp was, like, do you have to pay for it? They made us change our name to Arun’s.”
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“If my name is on the building or not, that’s fine,” Arun adds, “as long as they’re satisfied with the food.”
Yash can’t pinpoint why customers flocked to their restaurant, either, but suspects his father’s humbleness convinced customers to heap five-star reviews on Yelp. Their No. 6 ranking on Yelp’s Top 100 Places to Eat marks the fifth consecutive year they’ve appeared on the national list.
“Maybe it’s because they got to know the real person behind the great food,” he speculates. “And they were like, this guy deserves some love, right? He cares about his food and his art, so maybe it’s that simple: You make great food, people will come.”
Arun’s Indian Kitchen, at 1930 NE Fifth Ave., Boca Raton, is open 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Call 561-672-7138 or go to ArunsIndianKitchen.com.