Jalsa: Traditional Indian in Old City

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Jalsa is at 246 Market St., formerly Lena, Bluezette, and Prive.

Kayur Popat did not set out to get into the Indian restaurant business.

Popat, 39, born in Uganda to Indian parents, bought into a fast-food franchise that went cold. Then he hit it big with two Saxby's coffee shops. He also bought Bonte, the waffle shops.

Back home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., he was offered a stake in a pizzeria in 2009. His family suggested that he add Indian cooking. So Friends & Family Pizza Buffet became Bombay Junction & Pizza Buffet - a fitting meld of this fun-loving, easygoing American guy interested in maintaining his cultural heritage. (And talk about heritage: He traveled to India to find a bride. After a year of diplomatic red tape, his wife, Mona, joined him in Philly recently.)

While Bombay Junction is a humble spot in a suburban strip mall, he is ready to go downtown.

Friday, April 20, he opens Jalsa ("fun") at 246 Market St. (267-273-1648), the steel-girdled storefront previously home to Lena, Bluezette, and Prive. This is not an easy setup for a restaurateur. As it has under previous occupants, a space-sucking staircase divides the two floors of dining rooms. Popat has maintained much of the mod looks and white banquettes of Prive. Upstairs will be dining and late-night DJ action.

Following him from Mechanicsburg is his chef Diego Rodrigues (like the explorer), a native of Goa - the home of vindaloo. Really tasty stuff - traditional specialties and assorted breads (garlic and plain naan, paratha, tandoor roti). Entrees are $19.95 and under, and Rodrigues makes his own kulfi, the Indian ice cream.

It's open for lunch and dinner daily; in these first days, it would be best to call first.

Menu is here.

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