When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Rania's Kabob Grill Location: 1674 N. Higley Rd., Gilbert Open: About a month Eats: Afghani Price: $15 to $20 per person
We can thank the Ansari family for this Afghan restaurant, located in a shopping complex just south of the US 60 on Higley Road. The restaurant offers a menu of Afghan cuisine including a version of qabili palau, often considered Afghanistan's national dish.
More importantly though for Gilbert-ites: they deliver.
And delivery might be an better option than navigating Rania's funky service situation. That's because the restaurant is designed to be a counter service operation, with a menu on the wall, a serve-yourself soda machine and even little number holders on the tables. But when we stopped in we were told to seat ourselves and we handed menus by a friendly waitress, who explained (later in the meal) that the restaurant had recently switched from counter to full-service.
But on to the food. We started with an duo of chicken samosas ($2), which featured superbly moist ground chicken mixed with potatoes, peas, onions, cliantro, and other spices. The turnovers were encased by a thick, crisp shell of dough and pan fried, leaving the dish a little too oily for some. But not enough that it discouraged us from finishing every last bite.
We also tried the bolani ($6.95), a dish that's sort of like an Indian paratha. The turnover is filled with potatoes, scallions, and spices then folded in half and grilled. The dough itself might remind you of a crepe as it's thin and just a little bit stretchy. It makes for a tasty and filling appetizer, particularly if you use the accompanying cilantro chutney -- though it tasted like jalapenos to us.
Pretty much every entree on the menu comes with a choice of naan or salad and both are honestly good options. The naan here is fluffy though, sort of like a mix between naan and pita bread, with a doughy inside and crispy, oven-baked exterior. And as for the salad option, you get a little bowl and all-you-can-eat access to Rania's salad bar. There are options like kidney beans, raisins, pickled brusselsprouts, and chickpeas to put on top of your lettuce. As well as a very garlicky yogurt-based House Creamy dressing, among other options.
For our main dish we tried the Beef Keemah Kabob platter ($9.95). Unlike the Beef Tikka Kabob, which features cubes of beef, the keemah will be a log of ground beef seasoned, skewered, and grilled. The restaurant says all their meats are marinated for 72 hours before being grilled -- and whether or not that's true, they do pack a lot of flavor.
Our server warned us the keemah was spicy then then tikka and while we wouldn't call the dish spicy per se, we did find it very flavorful. The beef was tender and offered a nice char from the open flame of Rania's grill.
Rania's platters also come with your choice of white, brown, or spinach basmati rice. We have to suggest you go with either the spinach or upgrade for an extra $1.50 to the Kabuli-style rice. As we mentioned, kabuli/qabili palaw is the considered the Afghan national dish. It's a rice pilaf made with (at least at Rania's) julienned carrots, raisins, and other spices. It really adds a lot to the meal.
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We also tried the Afgan-style meatballs, which were on special when we came in. The dish featured large meatballs dressed in a tomato-based sauce. They were fine but at $10.95 we probably would have been better off with a regular menu item.
There are also stuffed naans, a handful of vegetarian dishes, and desserts on the menu. Meaning we still have a lot to come back and try. We wish the owners would have stuck with a counter service model to avoid confusion, but hopefully with more time they'll work out all the kinks with the front of house.
Or you could always just have it delivered.