India, in Artesia

Lose yourself among silks and spices
Rich Lang

Thirty minutes southeast of downtown L.A. on a nondescript stretch of Pioneer Boulevard, step out of your car and into India. The buildings' exteriors may be typical L.A., but cross any threshold and you'll find yourself in a world colored by rich silks and spiced with exotic scents and sounds. On August 10, the Taste of India festival will transform Pioneer into a virtual Indian bazaar. But you can explore on your own anytime.

Once you've parked between 183rd and 187th Streets on Pioneer, walk the length of the street―all the better to stop wherever you're inspired to linger. The temptations are bountiful here, starting with the edible kind. Ashoka the Great (18614 Pioneer Blvd.; 562/809-4229) specializes in northern Indian cuisine. Across the street at Udupi Palace (closed Mon; 18635 Pioneer; 562/860-1950), southern Indian vegetarian classics like wide, crêpe-thin dosas and pancake-thick uthapams are a rewarding treat for newcomers. For dessert, get lost in the dizzying variety at any Indian sweetshop. A good one is Ambala Sweets & Snacks (18433 Pioneer; 562/402-0006), with confections like moist carrot halvah and rasmalai, a chewy, dairy-based dessert the consistency of fresh mozzarella cheese.

The markets along Pioneer sell everything from stacked bags of rice to cookware, crafts, and bath products. Bombay Spices (18626 Pioneer; 562/860-9949) is neat and friendly. For a dollar, the salespeople up the block at Farm Fresh (18612 Pioneer; 562/865-8171) will hack open a coconut for you to sip the milk and scoop out the meat.

CDs ranging from raga (traditional Indian music) to the latest sound tracks from Bollywood (India produces more films annually than any other nation), as well as videos and DVDs, are available at Raaga (18625 Pioneer; 562/865-6070). Across the street at Bangle Bazaar (18624 Pioneer; 562/402-4890), you can browse more titles, as well as a good selection of Indian and Pakistani magazines.

Sari shops selling the elegant Indian national dress for women and kurta pajamas for men also line the boulevard. Cottage Art (18619 Pioneer; 562/860-1076) is an ideal place to wander the wealth of color and textures and perhaps try on a sari.

Finally, even if only to window-shop, drop by the spectacular Bhindi Jewelers (18508 Pioneer; 562/402-8755). The traditional Indian designs in 22-karat gold have attracted the likes of Naomi Campbell and Madonna, who was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in a Bhindi necklace.

WHERE
Pioneer Blvd. is off State 91 (Artesia Fwy.), near the junction with I-605 (San Gabriel Fwy.), southeast of L.A. and northeast of Long Beach