At first glance, this small, storefront Thai restaurant in Arlington looks like a run of the mill Thai restaurant. But look more closely, and you’ll notice signs that this is no ordinary Thai restaurant. The picture on the wall, for instance, is of people on horseback on a steppe with a yurt. That’s because the owners of Thai Eatery aren’t Thai at all but are, in fact, Mongolian and this is a spot that (in addition to an extensive Thai menu that I didn’t try) serves up authentic Mongolian food. How did I know that? Well, I probably would just have bypassed this place as just another Americanized Thai restaurant had it not been for the fact that a college classmate of mine lived in Mongolia for a time and tipped me off about the place. I ordered raisin juice to drink, which is a traditional and refreshing Mongolian beverage. In case you’re wondering what raisin juice is, you’re not alone. I, too, couldn’t fathom how a dry raisin could produce juice, so I looked it up. It turns out that it’s made by soaking raisins in water and then evaporating the excess liquid.
For food, I ordered khuushuur, which are fried dumplings filled with juicy beef, and a bit of broth, making them reminiscent of soup dumplings, but fried. An interesting Mongolian tradition is the belief that holding warm khuushuur between your hands will boost circulation thereby promoting health. I’m not sure there have been scientific studies showing whether the boosted circulation offsets the artery-clogging that is sure to occur from eating these. Either way, they are delicious (but very heavy).
Thai Eatery certainly isn’t fancy, but it’s a solid place to grab a tasty and reasonably-priced Mongolian meal.
Thai Eatery is located at 1926 Wilson Blvd in Arlington.
At long-last, DC has a Georgian restaurant. While many people are confused that Georgia is, in fact, a country in addition to being a state, Georgia has one of the world’s greatest cuisines and one of its oldest wine cultures. In fact, Georgians will claim that the country is the world’s oldest wine producer but the Cypriots and people from several other countries would beg to differ. Regardless, Georgia makes some truly excellent wine, and the beautifully-decorated Supra is a perfect place to savor some. Some Georgian wines are fermented and aged in a large clay jar called a qvevri and Supra offers several of these. At the friendly Georgian waiter’s recommendation, I had the Orgo Saperavi. At $16 for a glass, it certainly was expensive, but it was an excellent red.
The food was fantastic as well. We started with the tasting board, which includes pkhali (a type of ball of vegetables that is hard to describe but that tastes amazing), three Georgian cheeses that could stand toe to toe with the world’s best, eggplant, additional spreads and warm, delicious fresh bread. It was beautifully presented. Then we moved on to khachapuri. Georgia has many kinds of khachapuri, which are stuffed breads. We opted for the ajaruli, a boat-shaped khachapuri that is filled with cheese and an egg. We finished with khinkali, Georgian soup-dumplings that are a bit similar to Chinse xiao long bao. While tasty, they could have had a higher soup to meat ratio and were only lukewarm inside. That would be my only criticism of what was otherwise a fantastic meal.
Supra is located at 1205 11th Street NW.
Maiwand Grill is just a few blocks away from Lapis, DC’s high-end Afghan restaurant, but it’s a world apart. Both places serve Afghan food, and I’m a huge fan of both. But Lapis is really a place to go when you’re looking to splurge a bit on a nice, sit-down dinner. Maiwand Grill, a Maryland transplant that is mainly a carryout spot with a handful of tables, has little to offer in the way of atmosphere but does serve excellent Afghan food at very affordable prices. The combos are an excellent deal; they run around the $10 range (depending which you order) and include rice, salad and Afghan naan, which is a bit like Indian naan but thicker and less fluffy. However, if you read the small print, you’ll see that most of the veggie sides can be substituted for the rice and/or the salad, meaning that you can have your lamb kabob with delicious sides of pumpkin and spinach if you’re not in the mood for (the perfectly cooked) fluffy pile of Afghan rice. Either way, you can’t really go wrong.
Maiwand Grill is located at 1764 Columbia Rd NW.
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.
Shamshiry 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, 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 was 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 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.
Dolan 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 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 additional 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.”
<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>
SKWR Kabobline is a fast casual Middle Eastern restaurant located at 1400 K St. NW. At first glance it appears similar to Cava and Roti, but 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. While 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.