Delicious kabobs are the obvious stars at the only current Afghan restaurant in the city, but most other offerings are well-prepared and approachable
The owners of Kabob Shack chose a name that quickly communicates the eatery’s specialty and has a nice ring to it. While easy to remember, that name doesn’t explain what separates this non-shack operation — Kabob Shack is actually a modern new business in a Hilliard strip mall — from the pack of other establishments offering kabobs: Kabob Shack is the only local restaurant to currently focus on the cuisine of Afghanistan.
“Afghan Kitchen” is written on a white wall emblazoned with words alluding to the food in the restaurant; the other walls are red and yellow, respectively. In a nutshell, though, like myriad other interesting but modest local eateries worth seeking out, Kabob Shack is another small, bright and tidy place offering counter service and inconspicuously located in a suburban shopping center.
Apparently by design, the restaurant’s single-page menu is a breeze for customers who are unfamiliar with Afghan cuisine to order from. For example, diners need not order “Kabuli pulao” to sample what is often considered Afghanistan’s national dish because that fragrant, basmati-rice pilaf garnished with raisins and carrot slivers is just called “rice” on the menu, and it comes with every entree.
Entrees also include a mesclun salad. It arrives undressed but can be boldly flavored by two all-purpose, house-made sauces that likewise accompany orders and are cuisine staples in Afghanistan: a rich-and-creamy yogurt-based condiment related to raita and tzatziki; and a spicy green number similar to coriander chutney.
If “coriander chutney,” “basmati,” “pulao” and “raita” are suddenly ringing bells, you’re probably becoming aware that Afghan fare has commonalities with Indian food. (Afghanistan and India are separated by Pakistan.) Afghan food shares plenty with Persian cuisine, as well, which isn’t surprising because Afghanistan was once part of the former Persian Empire and it shares a border with Iran (which is practically synonymous with “Persia”).
A tangy, Persian-style spice blend animated by telltale sumac mixed with cumin seed and dried coriander helps distinguish the restaurant’s delicious kabobs. The terrific Chicken Tikka Kabob entree ($12.99), which stars five juicy, tender, sizable and skillfully seared breast pieces, is highly recommended. I loved the earthier flavor of the Lamb Tikka Kabob ($14.99), but the meat I was served was chewy.
Whether you order the chicken or beef Chapli Kabob — both are excellent, but I’d give the edge to the beef — you’ll pay $12.99 and receive two thin-yet-juicy seared patties of zesty ground meat flecked with onion and tomato and livened by spicy masala.
My flawlessly grilled Lamb Chops ($16.99) were so delectable that I momentarily forgot about the lamb miscue from that previous visit. In fact, I momentarily forgot my manners when I picked up and gnawed off every scrap of lamb that remained on the bones of the three moderate-sized chops.
That feeding frenzy continued digging into the Afghan Chickpea Stew I’d ordered, too ($4.99 for the generous side/appetizer size). Served with toasted pita wedges, this hearty dish has a tomato sauce with cinnamon hints and conjures extremely mild chana masala.
Turnover fans who order the pleasant “Bolani/Samosa” ($4.99) will be rewarded with five crisp, golden-brown savory pastries filled with herb-kissed mashed potatoes. Still, the most intriguing non-grilled item I tried is the delightful, locally uncommon Mantu ($6.99): tender little potstickers filled with seasoned ground beef and onions enhanced by toppings of yogurt, dal-like lentils, plus garlic and minty notes.
Yogurt, lemon, salt and mint make the pleasantly tart, thin, traditional beverage called Doogh ($3.50) a refreshing counterpoint for Kabob Shack’s food. The moderately sweet and perfumey Falooda ($4.99) — a milky parfait combining ice cream, vermicelli, basil seeds, toasted almonds and what seemed like strawberry gelatin — is an intriguing treat enjoyed in India, countries once part of the Persian Empire and, well, a Hilliard strip mall.