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San Clemente’s New Indian Restaurant Brings the Sub-Continent to the Beach

By Norb Garrett

Starting any business has unique challenges, but try opening a new business in the midst of a global pandemic while introducing the San Clemente beach community to an entirely new ethnic cuisine—Indian.

Well, that’s exactly what 41-year-old Azeem Akhtar did, opening Hot-N-Chili Indian Restaurant in July 2020, and according to the Pakistani-born owner of an MBA in Hotel Management, things are working out just fine despite the potential headwinds.

“We’ve had a very good response from the people of San Clemente,” said Akhtar, who moved to the area from Miami in 2017 after spending two years working as a head waiter on cruise ships. “It took me one and a half years to find a place to open my own business. When I found this place, near the beach and in this plaza, I decided to open a restaurant here.”

The restaurant, located within San Clemente’s Old Town plaza, features a menu consisting entirely of Akhtar’s recipes and favorites (such as Goat Karahi) and popular Indian dishes including Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Vindalu and a huge variety of vegetarian dishes.

Prior to opening the restaurant with the help of manager Stella Devasana, Akhtar spent three years refining his menu and business plan while working at other area Indian restaurants. But the story of how he arrived here is fascinating and underscores the basic construct of the “American Dream.”

Last July, Azeem Akhtar (left) opened Hot-N-Chili Indian Restaurant in San Clemente’s Old Town plaza, naming Stella Devasana (right) as manager. Photo: Norb Garrett

Born in Islamabad, Pakistan, young Azeem was raised with nine siblings. Excelling in school in Pakistan, he earned entry to a prestigious school in Switzerland, where he earned his MBA in 2004.

While he enjoyed life in Switzerland, he felt he needed a change of scenery (and a warmer climate), so he moved to Miami and took a job working cruise ships and traveling the world. In 2014, a friend of his invited him to visit California, and that trip changed everything for him.

“The weather was really nice here, always pleasant,” he said, acknowledging that Southern California’s climate was more similar to where he grew up in Pakistan. “I had spent 10 years in Switzerland, and it was too cold.”

His decision to move here is paying dividends. He says that his takeout business during the pandemic has been “very good”—so good, in fact, that he’s looking at opening a second location in Huntington Beach.

But for now, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, Akhtar is excited about having people finally able to dine inside his new restaurant and experience the full Indian dining experience. Soon, he’ll offer a special Sunday brunch buffet, which he’s excited for his San Clemente patrons to try. The restaurant is open seven days a week, from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

“San Clemente is a very nice place,” he said, noting that after work, he always goes down to the pier to sit and take in the sights, sounds and smells. “The beach is very nice. It’s very relaxing.”

Hot-N-Chili Indian Restaurant is located at 111 W. Avenida Palizada, #305. More information about the restaurant can be found at hotnchili.comContact the Hot-N-Chili at 949.299.2781.

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