Aladdin Restaurant, located in a Bangladeshi strip mall in Arlington’s Yorktown section at 5169 Lee Hwy, was my first foray into Bangladeshi food. For the Indian/Pakistani food lover, a lot of the food here will be familiar: there are samosas, kabobs, lamb vindaloo and even chicken tikka masala.
However, the must-try dish here and the specialty of the house is the kacchi biryani, which takes hours to make and is only served on Saturday. Aladdin Restaurant’s website said to call ahead to ensure that kacchi biryani was available but I simply lucked out and it was on the menu the Saturday that I went. This unique biryani is made by cooking marinated baby goat, lamb and chicken under a bed of uncooked rice in the oven, such that everything is cooked at once. This makes the rice extra flavorful and is the reason this dish takes so long to prepare.
At Aladdin Restaurant, a mere $13 will score you a generous plate of this extra-flavorful biryani, made with lots of TLC. This is a true, home-cooked soul food and I’m sure a place like Rasika would charge an arm and a leg for the privilege of eating it off one of their gold plates. As you might imagine, the décor at Aladdin Restaurant is basically nonexistent, but that’s not what you’re here for.
People looking for a fancy take on Indian food flock to Rasika, but those looking for the best authentic Indian food in DC know to go to Indigo. This friendly and funky place is best visited when the weather is warm enough to sit outside on its expansive patio, though there are a handful of tables inside as well. While inside, you can enjoy the Bollywood dance videos playing on the TV and scrawl a message in sharpie on the walls. You order inside, take a number and then wait. The food does sometimes take a while (20+ minutes) to come out, but that’s because it’s made fresh. Trust me, it’s well worth it. The spicy masala chicken is especially good, but you really can’t go wrong with anything here. The food is definitely heavy on the ghee (clarified butter) but that’s just part of what makes it so tasty. And please do pair your food with a Kingfisher, either from the fridge inside, or from the bar outside that’s open when the weather’s warm. Friendly service rounds out what is all-around a gem of a place.
Indigo is located at 243 K Street NE.
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.
Red Toque Café, a Pakistani restaurant in Shaw, is not quite what I expected it would be. Given the interesting name and its location in Shaw, I was expecting an interesting and cutely decorated spot. But the interior is the definition of drab and the food is average and not especially cheap. I ordered a lamb kabob with rice and spinach, which was just ok. I would have preferred for the kabob to be a bit more char-grilled and flavorful. The spinach was on-point, as was the rice. The naan, however, was not as buttery as I expect and prefer. Ultimately the place isn’t bad, but it’s honestly nothing special.
Red Toque Café is located at 1701 6th St NW in Shaw, with an additional, smaller, location in Georgetown.
Pansaari is a really cool concept: an underground Indian restaurant with an open kitchen,
South Indian Coffee
low tables with floor seating and spices for sale. You walk down a flight of external stairs to the basement of a drab building on 17th street near Dupont Circle and you’re immediately transported into a beautiful, expansive, South Asian-inspired space. I went for brunch on a Sunday. Pansaari’s brunch offerings eschew American brunch options in favor of a purely Indian menu, offering dosas, kati rolls, parathas, and chaat plus drinks such as chai and South Indian coffee, as well as desserts. I ordered a Mysore masala dosa, as well as a South Indian coffee.
Interestingly, you place your order when you enter, bring your receipt to the open kitchen and then take a seat. Everything was going smoothly but for the fact that the people working the open kitchen, who were also serving as food runners, couldn’t keep straight who had ordered what. This confusion could have been resolved by simply having numbers on the tables, as most places that use this format do. Instead, we waited for a long time for our food, which was a frustrating aspect of a brunch that otherwise had a lot of potential.
When the food finally arrived, it was delicious, but those with sensitive palates might want to ask them to lay off on the spicy heat (I like spice but one of my friends found her cheese paratha overpowering). I really liked my South Indian coffee, which reminded me of Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. This place is a unique and really cool spot with lots of potential. It would earn 5 stars but for the service issues, which should be easy for them to fix.
Pansaari is located at 603 17th St NW.
Himalayan Soul Foods is a Nepalese food truck. You can find their location on their website. Nepalese food is a complex cuisine with a large number of traditional dishes,but Himalayan Soul Foods keeps it simple and limits itself to momo, Nepalese dumplings. They offer a choice between chicken and pork. I ordered the pork dumplings which were simple but tasty. They came out right away, which is the advantage of a food truck that only offers a very limited menu. This is a solid spot for lunch, but you have to be in the mood for making a meal out of dumplings.
Rasika is a fancy, haute-cuisine Indian restaurant located at 633 D St. NW, with an additional location at 1190 New Hampshire Ave, NW. Among certain types, Rasika is known as one of the hottest restaurants in DC for its innovative and chic take on Indian food. It’s the only place where you’re likely to find truffle naan and goat cheese kulcha (both of which are excellent). Among others, it’s thought of as overrated because there is far more authentic Indian food to be found in DC. I’m sympathetic to the second point of view because I do appreciate authenticity. But I ultimately agree with the first point of view because I don’t go to a place like Rasika for traditional, authentic fare. I go there to sample innovative cuisine and Rasika does that very well.
For appetizers, we ordered the palak chaat (crispy spinach) and the Chesapeake Bay crab masala. The crab was delicious, but the palak chaat was a true gem. The spinach barely tasted like spinach because of the wonderfully crispy way it was cooked, combined with the sauce and spices they used. For my main, I ordered the duck vindaloo, which was not all that spicy for a vindaloo (that’s one of the criticisms that people tend to level at Rasika). It was tasty, though less of a stand-out than the palak chaat. The gulab jamun with cardamom ice cream was awesome for dessert, though. I love Afghan ice cream, which is typically made with cardamom and rosewater. This ice cream just had cardamom, but when paired with the heavy dose of rosewater in the gulab jamun, it was a perfect finish to the meal.
Punjabi Dhaba is a South Asian food truck. They do not appear to have a Twitter. This is another of the fairly nondescript kabob trucks that tends to show up outside my office on a daily basis. As I tend to do when I go to a truck like this, I order something that I have never heard of before. So I got a chapli kabob, which is a patty of minced beef or lamb. For those familiar with the Iranian/Afghan dish koobideh kabob, chapli kabob is similar but in a patty shape. It was pretty tasty, but I tend to prefer tikka kabobs instead. Tikka is Persian /Urdu/Hindi for “piece” so a chicken tikka kabob or a lamb tikka kabob means you’re getting whole chunks of meat. That doesn’t count against Punjabi Dhaba though and I appreciated the opportunity to try something new and authentic.
Washington Kabob is a Pakistani food truck. They do not appear to have a Twitter. All of you who work Downtown like I do have been there: you see a bunch of food trucks and they look promising until you realize that it is kabob and falafel truck after kabob and falafel truck. The kabob trucks in particular tend not to score well on aesthetics and it can be hard to differentiate one from the other. That doesn’t mean the food is bad, however. I had a very tasty meal from Washington Kabob. My main tip at a kabob food truck is to find a special or other item on the menu that you have never heard of and give it a try. If the truck is Indian or Pakistani, you might find yourself having a delicious regional specialty that you’ve never encountered in a restaurant before. In the case of Washington Kabob, this was lamb karahi, a delicious and hearty lamb curry that was flavorful and spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. The hilarious and outgoing owner, who was wearing a Sox cap, called everyone boss and encouraged most passersby (especially attractive women) to come try his food in a thick Pakistani accent. This added to the fresh-off-the-boat charm of the place. If you don’t mind a truck that isn’t flashy and enjoy South Asian food, Washington Kabob will provide you with a tasty, filling, and flavorful lunch at a good price.
Mayur Kabab House is a Pakistani restaurant located at 1108 K St NW. It provides a welcome alternative to the food trucks and to the endless chain offerings downtown like Cosi. They offer a lunch buffet with typical staples such as pakawra, saag, and chicken tikka. The chicken tikka was tasty, especially given that it was from a buffet and the pakawra was wonderfully fried and satisfying. My Afghan co-worker, who grew up largely in Pakistan, was disappointed that they didn’t offer separate containers for the dessert at the buffet. That aside, the buffet, which can be had to go, is a reliably tasty, quick and filling work lunch.