Think Chipotle or Panera, but make it dosas and idlis. That’s the kind of household name that Hayward neighbors and friends Sriram Arun and Prasad Komala are hoping to achieve for southern Indian cuisine with their growing restaurant chain ID Cafe.

The co-founders opened their third East Bay restaurant at Pleasanton’s Stoneridge Mall in mid-July. The first location opened in Newark in 2021 and the second launched in April in Antioch. They’re hoping to open two more spots in the South Bay in the coming months, according to Arun.

The backstory: Arun and Komala were two friends working in tech and missing the food from their home country. Both grew up in India – Arun is from Chennai and Komala is from Hyderabad – and struggled to find a local chain that offered consistent, authentic Indian food.

“You don’t have Panera or Starbucks or Chipotle or even a Sweetgreens for Indian food,” he says. “We found a gap there.”

In particular, they were craving not just the curries and stews often available at Indian restaurants, but the lighter daily fare that’s often sold by street vendors throughout India, Arun explained. Dosas, or Indian-style crepes, and idlis, or steamed lentil and rice cakes, are popular street foods and common breakfast dishes in southern India, prepared with regional twists depending on the city.

The two launched their restaurant plan by embarking on a dining journey through the streets of India, sourcing recipes from street food vendors in various regions, then testing them extensively before moving forward on their first restaurant.

“(Prasad) is the chef. I’m the eater,” Arun joked. “We complemented each other.”

They also pushed each other to complete the Wharton San Francisco MBA program — they graduated in May — and enlisted a classmate, Sam Hsu, as chief marketing officer.

The cocoa mysore pak is served with sapodilla ice cream at ID Cafe in Pleasanton. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw/Bay Area News Group.)
The cocoa mysore pak is served with sapodilla ice cream at ID Cafe in Pleasanton. (Photo by Kate Bradshaw/Bay Area News Group.) 

The restaurant’s name, ID Cafe, is inspired by its idli and dosa offerings. You’ll find idli varieties and signature dosas, each sourced from a different Indian region or city – including Hyderabad, Mumbai, Vijayawada and Karaikudi – and filled with ingredients and flavor combinations authentic to that region. The halal Karaikudi goat keema dosa ($17), for example, features minced goat, onions, tomatoes, green chiles and coriander, while the Hyderabad bandi dosa ($14) includes onions, tomatoes, coriander, upma and kandhi podi, plus a sauce made with lentils, garlic and ginger.

The Vijayawada paneer dosa, which had a pleasantly toasty but not overwhelming level of spiciness, is filled with shredded paneer, green chile, red sauce and tomato ($14), which paired well with a sweet, floral rose milk ($4).

Most of the dishes are naturally gluten-free, and the fermented rice flour used to prepare the dosas can be good for gut health, Arun says. Guests can substitute their dosa wrap for a moong dal base. In addition, the restaurant is developing vegan and salad dosa options, and plans to launch a juice bar at its Pleasanton location.

There’s dessert, too. Both the ashoka halwa with malai ice cream and the fudge-like cocoa mysore pak with chikoo ice cream ($9 each) are delicious.