A sun bleached sign stands outside the Stillwell Hotel enticing passersby to partake in an all you- can-eat Indian lunch buffet. For some, those words alone can pique interest — yet the effectiveness of this sign is dwarfed by the thick musk of masala funneling down a long corridor, pulling patrons in by the nostrils. Like a peppered smack to the sinus, Gill’s Indian Restaurant has the attention of all who pass by.
For over 35 years, Gill’s has been serving traditional Indian cuisine inside the lobby of the historic Stillwell Hotel. It is flanked by fellow stalwarts of the community — Hank’s Bar and Uncle John’s Cafe, claiming this building as a hub for hole-in-the-wall grub. Credit can be given to T.S. Gill, Punjabi businessman, building owner, and the ‘Gill’ in Gill’s Indian Restaurant. Today, it is one of the oldest of the few Indian restaurants in Downtown. Like a true American Dream, the restaurant was eventually won over by a hardworking cook who owned and operated Gill’s until his brother Amarjit Khinda acquired it in 2007. For the Khindas, they keep Gill’s in the family — from the recipes to the staff; they work hard to reap the benefits for a prosperous American life. “Our family now has restaurants all over Los Angeles and we finally got a house. We used to live in an apartment,” says Mandeep Khinda, the oldest son of Amarjit, who studies business economics at UC Irvine and works at Gill’s part-time. With hard work and cultural pride, Gill’s continues to be a Downtown favorite for delivery and lunch buffet.
Every weekday from 11AM–2:30PM, workers and locals flock to the table lined with steaming trays of Chicken Tikka Masala, Saag Paneer, Tandoori Chicken, and all the fragrant fixins’ India can offer. One by one, patrons lift the covered dishes to reveal a saucy mix of earth tones and scoop onto their plate of drowning basmati rice. It doesn’t matter if food touches other food, because here there are no rules — the messier, the merrier. Just sop up the saucy drippings with a piece of garlic naan that’s baked fresh from the stone oven. The wait staff is generous bringing naan-stop naan to your table, but when you’re on the brink of unbuttoning your pants just cease naan and get up for Round 2 & 3. Don’t worry about what other people think, it’s naan of their business.
The Chicken Tikka Masala is their most popular item, a creamy tomato based sauce heavily spiced with masala and other flavors that will coat the mouth with ecstasy. This is the dish that gets multiple patrons to get up from a seated position like roll call in the 50s to scoop up more for seconds. For less than $10, Gill’s lunch buffet ranks high for best value and quality in Downtown — the only discretion we advise is to wear your buffet pants.
Written by Janica de Guzman
Photographed by Christian Thomas