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: Khyber Halal Restaurant & Catering Location: 4030 North 24th Street Open: One week. Eats: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indian cuisine. Price Point: About $10 to $16 a person.
Formerly a Two Hippies Pizza and Burger Joint and then a never-opened deli for about two months, the strip mall storefront on 24th Street and Indian School Road in Central Phoenix looks as though it's finally gotten over its identity crisis.
Called Khyber Halal Restaurant & Catering (the name a nod to Khyber Pass, the historic gateway from northern Pakistan to Afghanistan), the family-owned restaurant features the specialties of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India cuisine made with halal (food seen as permissible, according to Islamic law) meat and ingredients.
The menu includes appetizers, meat and veggie barbecue kebabs, beef, goat, lamb, and fish dishes, curry, rice dishes, Afghani specialities such as Kabli Pulao and Afghani Kofta, and -- for more Westernized palates -- burgers.
I started off with three samosas (99 cents each), the popular deep-fried triangular snack stuffed with beef, chicken, and vegetables and served with a tangy and spicy sauce. Wonderfully flaky, my favorite was the vegetable, stuffed with potatoes and onion.
In the Pakistani arena, chunks of barbecue chicken boti ($7.99) were satisfyingly spicy and served with large warm triangles of the tasty oven-baked flatbread, naan. Better, though, was an Afghani specialty called Kubli Pulao ($11.99.) Considered the national dish of Afghanistan and consisting of steamed rice mixed with lentils, raisins, and carrots, I enjoyed its subtle flavor flecked with hints of sweetness. Atop the Kabli Pulao was a tasty and well-seasoned beef kofta kebab, best enjoyed with an accompanying creamy yogurt sauce and bites of the rice mixture. Its side of seasoned beans lacked the lively flavor I was expecting and, sadly, was simply a boring bowl of beans.
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The dining area is clean and open, utilizing much of the never-opened deli's decor such as tables topped with fake flora and large photos of scenes from around the world. Service is friendly, and members of the family can be seen bustling about and performing various duties. There's also a dessert case by the counter packed with sweet endings like the popular Indian and Pakistani dessert called gulab jamun, Afghan rote (sweet bread), baklawa (baklava), and slices of homemade cake.
Khyber Halal Restaurant proved to be a satisfying first taste and one I can't wait to return to for more of its food.
What do you say, halal fans? Have you been to Khyber Halal Restaurant yet? What did you think?