Shamshiry

Rating: ★★★★✩

Shamshiry, a Persian restaurant located in Vienna, near Spring Hill metro, is an authentic Iranian chelokabob. A chelokabob, which literally means kabob and rice, is a restaurant that specializes in just that, kabobs and rice. A feature of Persian food is that some of the more complicated dishes are made exclusively in the home, while restaurants specialize in kabobs.

21247920_10155692710243011_577025022_oShamshiry continues this tradition, serving large pots of tea (with sugar cubes on the side- Persians have developed this skill that requires no small amount of dexterity, in which they put a sugar cube between their teeth while sipping the tea), alongside kabobs and massive quantities of fluffy, buttery rice seasoned with saffron.

The place is large but very busy, so expect to wait for at least a little while if you go at a peak time. I ordered the kabob barg, which was very good, though you can get kabobs of similar quality at Moby Dick, minus the atmosphere of a full-service restaurant like Shamshiry. Overall, this place is worth a visit if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t necessarily make a pilgrimage to it.

Shamshiry is located at 8607 Westwood Center Drive Vienna, Virginia.

The Helmand

Rating: ★★★★★

18835054_10155406920753011_976399619_nThe Helmand, run by Qayum Karzai, the brother of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, is an institution in Baltimore’s posh Mount Vernon neighborhood, having been in business since 1989. However, the place doesn’t feel the least bit tired and remains warm, inviting and trendy. When you step in, you can feast your eyes on the beautiful Afghan decor before you feast on the delicious Afghan food. The service was very friendly and prompt and I 18902945_10155406920558011_1220936902_nwas able to order a dish that I had never had never seen on a menu at any other Afghan restaurants (which is shocking because I eat a lot of Afghan food). I ordered the shalgham challow (slow-cooked lamb and turnips in a ginger sauce served with rice and stewed spinach). While I tend to prefer grilled meats to slow-cooked meats, it was tasty and it was refreshing to try something new. If you’re in Baltimore, The Helmand is a gem that you really should try.

The Helmand is located at 806 N Charles St, Baltimore.

Charming Nomad

Rating: ★★★★☆

18110497_10155274177918011_488434609_n.jpgCharming Nomad is a food truck that serves a mixture of Pakistani and Afghan food, though I’d say it skews more towards the Pakistani. This solid lunch option offers tasty and relatively healthy South and Central Asian meals with fresh ingredients and very friendly staff. It differentiates itself from the rather nondescript kabob trucks with eye-catching (and charming) decor and a commitment to using local, farm to table ingredients.

You can find Charming Nomad’s location on their Twitter.

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Dolan Uyghur Restaurant

Rating: ★★★★☆

17273836_10155137563073011_1152508169_o.jpgDolan Uyghur Restaurant in Cleveland Park is the first Uyghur restaurant in DC proper. Uyghur cuisine, the cuisine of the Turkic-speaking Uyghur people of Western China could be described, unsurprisingly, as a cross between Central Asian food and Chinese food. Since being written-up by the Washington Post, this small Cleveland Park spot has gotten very popular very quickly. So if you go on a weekend, prepare to wait for your food. Probably the most iconic Uyghur dish is laghman, hand-pulled noodles with beef and stir-fried veggies. I ordered the Royal Laghman, which was reasonably-priced at $16. The portion wasn’t overwhelming but it was sufficient. I did expect my noodles to arrive a bit more piping hot, but they were delicious and, as laghman tends to be when it is handmade, the noodles were delightfully stretchy. For dessert, my friend and I ordered the candied walnuts, which were tasty but came in too large of a portion, in contrast to the laghman. I would also liked to have seen a more interesting beverage selection. I know that Uyghur society is Muslim, so there likely isn’t much in the way of a culture of alcohol, but the cocktails could be made more interesting through the use of Uyghur-inspired ingredients. The service was friendly and welcoming.

Dolan Uyghur Restaurant is located at 3518 Connecticut Ave NW in Cleveland Park.

Grill Kabob

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Grill Kabob is a fast casual Afghan kabob restaurant with two Downtown DC locations, one at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW and one at 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, as well as a few 16683369_10155026705173011_1753156522_n.jpgadditional locations throughout the DMV area. Grill Kabob is similar to Moby Dick House of Kabob, though Moby Dick is Persian and has a larger menu. Grill Kabob does a solid lamb kabob with rice, yogurt sauce, chutney and a side salad. My Afghan friend who ate there with me enjoyed it. However, the place lacks atmosphere and variety on the menu. If you’re just looking for a good kabob, though, this place does that well (as it should with a name like “Grill Kabob.”

Taste of Persia

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

15129751_10154759997573011_702521588_n<rant> Taste of Persia is a food truck that is best avoided. I had hoped that it would have authentic Persian food and serve up tasty kabobs, but I was wrong. For the record, gyros and falafel are not Persian. I ordered a lamb kab0b and was given a gyro sandwich. Don’t call yourself a Persian food truck and serve Greek and Lebanese food. </rant>

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SKWR Kabobline

Rating: ★★★★☆

imageSKWR Kabobline is a fast casual Middle Eastern restaurant located at 1400 K St. NW. At first glance it appears similar to Cava and Rotibut SKWR Kabobline’s center of gravity is farther east, since many of the ingredients have more of a Persian flavor, such as the Salad Olivieh topping and the Lavash Crisp topping. imageWhile I’m generally not a huge fan of places like this that throw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl or onto a plate, the ingredients that they use are fresh, flavorful and delicious. Overall, I like SKWR Kabobline better than its competitors.

Moby Dick House of Kabob

Rating: ★★

13262399_10154241059988011_1238142336_oMoby Dick House of Kabob is a casual Persian restaurant with numerous locations throughout the DMV area. The two DC locations are at 1300 Connecticut Ave. N.W. near Dupont Circle and 1070 31st Street N.W. in Georgetown, which are the only ones that I have been to so far. Moby Dick has a special place in my heart because it is one of the first places I ever ate in DC when I was on a pre-orientation for a trip to Tajikistan to study Persian. As a student of Persian and a big fan of Persian food, I can vouch that Moby Dick (despite its bizarre name) is one of the best places to get a reliably good Persian-style kabob in the area. Persian kabobs, when done right are hearty, juicy and served with delicious, buttery long grain rice that you will want to devour on its own (with some yogurt sauce on top). I typically order a lamb kabob (kabob-eh barreh) which is reliably satisfying. I have also had their koobideh kabob, which is similar to a seekh kabob in South Asian restaurants. It is good too and is a classic Persian dish but I don’t like it as much as the chunks of lamb. Their baklava is a bit pricey, but baklava tends to be and it’s very tasty. There are a few drawbacks to Moby Dick; first, it lacks an everyday offering of some of the more diverse, non-kabob dishes of Persian cuisine, like ghormeh sabzi or zereshk polo. Instead, it offers a daily lunch special that cycles through some of the other Persian classics. In addition, the wait can be a bit long and the service, while not rude, could be a bit warmer and friendlier. That aside, for your kabob fix, Moby Dick is hard to beat.

Lapis

Rating: 

Lapis is an upscale Afghan restaurant located at 1847 Columbia Rd NW. While most Afghan restaurants have rather predictable names that inevitably include “Kabob,” “Afghan,” “Grill,” and/or “Kabul,” Lapis’s name is the first clue that this is not your average Afghan place. Don’t get me wrong, I love Afghan food. In fact, Afghan food is probably my favorite cuisine. But Lapis takes things to another level by providing a more extensive menu than most Afghan restaurants with chic, tasteful decor, and some of DC’s best cocktails.

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The “Five Lions”

Let’s start with the cocktails: Afghanistan is sadly a dry country, but it doesn’t lack delicious ingredients that provide inspiration for interesting and exotic cocktails. I have now tried a number of their cocktails. The “Afghan 75” is tasty, but I would mainly recommend it as a brunch drink. It is a light, bubbly cocktail, made with cognac, cardamom syrup, and champagne. The “Five Lions” (gin, cardamom syrup, egg white, fresh lime) and the “Khyber Pass” (bourbon, creme de violette, and blood orange) are both absolutely fantastic. I also tried a sip of my friend’s “Gulistan,” which is made of rye, house-made rose grenadine and pressed lime, and it was also excellent. I would not recommend the “Karakoram” (gin, orange blossom orgeat, lemon, and soda) so much because the ice and soda dilute it such that it doesn’t have all that much flavor and is a rather weak cocktail (unless that’s what you like).

 

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Aushak

In terms of the food, I haven’t yet tried something there that I didn’t like. I went with a large group of friends and we ordered a bunch of different dishes. Among the appetizers , I have had the Sambosa Trio (phenomenal) and the Bolani with pumpkin and beef. Bolani is essentially a stuffed flatbread and both the pumpkin and beef fillings were excellent. I have had both types of Afghan dumplings, Aushak “and Mantoo (with beef) and both were tasty as well, if perhaps less memorable. That might be simply because I have had both of these dishes many times before.

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Mantoo with beef.

 

 

 

 

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Mixed Grill.

We also ordered the mixed grill (chicken, lamb and ground beef kabobs) which was spot on and the “Qabuli Palao,” which is an Afghan pilaf topped with carrots, raisins and lamb was tasty as well, if a bit of a small portion.

 

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Dal.

All Afghan places have at least a handful of vegetarian options, but Lapis provides an exceptional array of choices, including a vegetarian tasting menu, a wide range of veggie dishes and a number of other dishes that can be made vegetarian. We sampled the sabzi (a spinach dish a bit like Indian saag), the dal and the buranee kadoo, which is sauteed pumpkin topped with garlic yogurt and dry mint. They were all great, but the buranee kadoo was especially excellent.

 

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Buranee Kadoo.

 

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Brunch featuring Karayee, the Sambosa Trio and the “Afghan 75” cocktail.

Lapis also does a nice brunch, and while a large portion of the brunch menu consists of American brunch food, I ordered the tasty Karayee which consists of eggs over sauteed tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hot peppers, which I enjoyed.

 

Fortunately, Afghan cusisine does not lack dessert options. In this regard, Lapis offers the holy trinity of Afghan desserts, Sheer Yakh (vanilla ice cream with rose water and a pistachio garnish), “firnee” which is a custard,  and “sheer berenj,” which is a rice pudding. I found the “sheer yakh” to actually be a little less flavorful than versions at other Afghan places, which often add cardamom and saffron to the mix. I haven’t tried the “sheer berenj” or

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Sheer Yakh.

the “firnee” yet, but I will in the future. Despite the less than perfect ice cream, Lapis is an excellent place that can appeal to people of all tastes, carnivores and vegetarians, and lovers of sophisticated cocktails.

 

 

 

Queen Amannisa

Rating:

 

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Delicious laghman.

Queen Amannisa is a Uyghur restaurant located at 320 23rd St in Crystal City. For the uninitiated, Uyghur food is basically a cross between Chinese food and Central Asian food. They also serve some of the common Chinese American dishes for the less adventurous, but it’s pointless to order things like that when you can order authentic Ugyhur laghman, a delicious stretchy noodle dish with veggies and meat. I ordered the Ammani-style laghman, which was absolutely delicious. The noodles were stretchy and the meat and veggies were cooked perfectly. I also ordered a red jujube tea, which is a Chinese herbal tea that’s a bit fruity. The tea was served in the carafe of a coffee maker,

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Red jujube tea.

which I found a bit odd. It was also approximately $7, so I concluded that it was intended for sharing by the table. In general, I think this place is best-suited for groups. The restaurant is cavernous (I’m not sure how they ever expect to fill it) and the fact that it presents a rare opportunity to eat Uyghur food means it is a great place to share a bunch of dishes and try new things. The staff is very welcoming and is keen to make sure you like the food. The decor is pleasant, though they were playing this annoyingly repetitive elevator music when I was 12914923_10154090899188011_1074126145_othere, which I could have done without.