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Badmaash!! :: Leaders of the New School of Immigrant Cuisine

Badmaash!! :: Leaders of the New School of Immigrant Cuisine

बदमाश!! reads the stark white sign above Fairfax’s newest restaurant, Badmaash—a literal exclamation in glowing neon Hindi against black paint. Nakul Mahendro says it looks the way he heard it in his head as a child when his grandma or mother would call him and his brother a badmaash, complete with two exclamation points for effect. The word means rascal, a hooligan, a deviant, someone who causes trouble, a “mischievous motherfucker.” Seeing बदमाश!! interjected just so on one of Los Angeles’s most hip destination blocks, right across the street from historical Jewish deli Canter’s, makes you think: Only a badmaash would put up such signage. It’s brash, it’s badass, and it’s everything Badmaash stands for.

Badmaash is the culinary result of what happens when the two deviant children (Nakul and Arjun Mahendro) of an immigrant chef from India (Pawan Mahendro) land in Los Angeles from a suburb of Toronto. When they opened their first Downtown location in 2013, Nakul says he “fought with Yelp to be listed as Indian and also New American.” It sounds impossible to do this and remain boldly authentic, yet somehow, the restaurant exists at this culinary intersection—beyond fusion cuisine—because it is an extension of their uniquely immigrant experience and memories. Badmaash is the story of their lives. “Literally something from our brain is here. It’s almost trippy,” says Arjun, joking that the only things missing are “Street Fighter arcade and ‘Sky’s the Limit’ by Biggie.”

The Badmaash story begins with their father Pawan’s memories of Amritsar, the cosmopolitan melting pot of a city in Punjab where he grew up, and the classic French and Italian cuisine he was culinarily trained in when he moved to Bombay at the age of 17. There, he met his beautiful wife Anu, who happens to be “a brilliant host and cook… the most hospitable person we know” according to Nakul. The young couple immigrated to Scarborough, Toronto, a strikingly vibrant multicultural city (demographically made up of over 65% immigrants) where they raised their two sons Nakul and Arjun. Badmaash carries the weight of the two brothers’ memories, too. These two eccentric and undeniably creative little rascals with hard-working immigrant parents thrived in the juxtaposition of two cultural worlds, their early lives soundtracked with East Coast hip-hop’s hustle and flow.

Pawan never wanted his sons to work in hospitality—he knew how grueling the work could be. But when their father was working long nights in New York and their mother was working one of her three jobs to support the family, Arjun told Migrant Kitchen that the brothers would “play restaurant” at home, cooking mac & cheese and serving each other the way mom and dad inadvertently taught them. It was second nature. The family found themselves in LA less than a decade ago, and together, opened their first Badmaash restaurant in 2013, and this second location on the historic Fairfax block in July. The brothers say the restaurant is responsible for bringing the family close on a project of work, life, love, and family that they can all be proud of.