RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The year was 2003 when Raj Sharma had opened his first “Punjab Palace” restaurant on Magnolia Avenue here.

Located almost 40 miles east of Los Angeles, Riverside was a rapidly growing city which grew even faster with the construction of several freeways linking it to other counties in the greater Los Angeles area.

In the short span of just a few years, Sharma began to develop a loyal following of diners who began to post glowing reviews on Yelp and other websites.

“Best Indian food in the Inland Empire,” wrote one customer.

“Their lunch buffet is the greatest bang for the buck in all of Riverside,” wrote another.

“Do not forget to order their Chicken Tikka Masala and Paneer Tikka appetizer. Both dishes are absolutely amazing,” gushed another satisfied diner.

“And save the room for dessert,” suggested another; “their sweet butter ball things and carrot pudding are both oh so delicious.”

And then there was the sprawling U.C Riverside campus not too far away. Eight years later, in 2011, Sharma got inspired to open his second location using the same name.

His new branch of Punjab Palace is located on University Avenue much closer to campus than his earlier location.

At both his restaurants, Sharma serves a large variety of North Indian dishes with a heavy Punjabi flair. The Tandoor is the star attraction at both the locations. Freshly made Naans (with requests for more garlic), freshly grilled meats cooked in the sizzling hot tandoors, and several curry dishes based on meats initially cooked in the tandoor, are all big hits with his customers.

For campus students with small budgets and large appetites, his buffet lunches are a big draw.

Sharma’s restaurant on Magnolia Avenue was recently voted “Best Restaurant in Riverside” by the local newspaper, Press Enterprise.

Had Raj Sharma not immigrated to the U.S in 1991, he could well have ended up playing professionally for India’s cricket team in world cup matches.

Sharma was born in Jalandhar, Punjab, where his father was an officer in the Punjab Police. While studying in college, Sharma became a good cricket player and represented his state in several Ranji Trophy cricket matches.

But the lure of the land of opportunity was greater than his love for cricket and Sharma found himself in California in 1991.

After working stints at Delhi Palace restaurant in Marina Del Rey, and then as manager at India Restaurant in Artesia, Sharma decided to break out on his own. He opened his first restaurant in 1998 in Corona called “Bombay Restaurant.”

After just two years, he received an offer and decided to sell the restaurant. For a while, he dabbled in running a convenience store in Rialto, but his heart kept yearning for him to go back to the restaurant business.

He finally did so in 2003 by opening the first of his two Punjab Palace restaurants in the Tyler mall in the city of Riverside. It was only after his brother from India joined him that he got inspired to open the second location on University Avenue.

Sharma has also begun to provide catering services for small parties and larger events in the Inland empire area. Readers may call him at 951-756-8356 for more information on his catering services.

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