When you've exhausted Indian and tired of Turkish, Afghan is an exciting next step. I associate Afghan food with rich flavor and subtle spice, ingredients like pumpkin and rosewater and pistachio—elements that, at restaurants like Khyber Pass in the East Village or Bamiyan on Third Avenue, result in a vibrant and distinctive cuisine.
The same can't quite be said of the Afghan Kebab House in Hell's Kitchen. Though its meat plates and crispy appetizers leave little room for complaint, there's not much here a city diner hasn't eaten before. Still, with perfectly serviceable kebabs and an array of spiced veggie sides—plus the all-important BYOB policy—it's worth a closer look.
Bulanee, boorani, and kabuli palow, after the jump.
Starters include spinach bulanee ($5), essentially flat, stuffed pastries, and sambosas ($5). The bulanee (also available in pumpkin, scallion, and potato) reminds one of an ironed-out egg roll wrapper, with that flaky, bubbly crust; the sambusa's ground beef and pea filling lacked seasoning. Both tasty, in the way that anything fried ends up tasty, but not particularly memorable.
More fun was the yogurt-drizzled eggplant boorani ($7), almost like an Afghan-spiced caponata, served with triangles of flatbread.
The kebabs are broiled over charcoal, and served with basmati rice; the sultani kebab plate ($17) pictured here combines marinated lamb tikka and ground beef kafta. While the lamb was nearly perfect—nicely browned, far more tender than it looked—the kafta desperately lacked spice. A splash of the spicy coriander-mint sauce corrected that easily enough.
Kabuli Palow plates are essentially identical, except the kebabs are served over a bed of brown rice with almonds, raisins, and pistachios—the tastiest thing we ate all night. The chicken ($17) on top remained juicy and flavorful, though not particularly remarkable.
We ended with the firnee ($5), a thick pudding somewhere in consistency between a flan and a solid, with cardamom, rosewater, and pistachios. Sweet and delicate.
There's nothing to dislike about Afghan Kebab House, but for $17 kebab plates, there are far better options. My recommendation? Check out Khyber Pass on St. Marks or Bamiyan on 26th and 3rd for much more exciting Afghan fare—or, if your heart's set on BYOB kebabs in Hell's Kitchen, head to Gazala Place instead.
Afghan Kebab House
764 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10019 (map)