34 Saint Marks Place, New York NY 10003 (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues; map); 212-473-0989; menu
Veggie Options: 6 appetizers, several salads, about 10 entrées
Cost: Appetizers around $6, veg entrées around $11
To say that Afghan restaurant Khyber Pass doesn't look like much is a a bit of an understatement. The sidewalk chairs have cavities and the upholstery on the seating inside is seriously frayed. There seem to be enough hookahs for every table to have their own; which made us wonder—is anyone here for the food?
They should be. We started with the ethereal Ashak ($5.95), silky pasta triangles stuffed with chopped scallions and topped with a yogurt-mint sauce and a eggplant and tomato saute. With just a hint of spice, these dumplings were both luscious and light.
We also loved the Boulanee Kadu ($5.95), fried turnovers filled with sweet, cinnamony pumpkin puree. This dish could be a dessert if it weren't for a few spoonfuls of tangy yogurt sauce that bring it back to the savory side. The turnovers seemed freshly fried, not overly heavy, and the filling was perfectly smooth.
The menu has an extensive selection of vegetarian entrées in addition to plenty of beef, lamb, and poultry options. Our waitress recommended the okra ($10.95), which was bewitchingly smoky, tossed in a rich tomato sauce.
The Shireen Palow ($11.95), a saffron-infused rice dish served with your choice of vegetable toppings, was even better. The rice, sweetened with orange peels and dotted with almonds and pistachios was fragrant and tasty, but the comforting eggplant mash served alongside it played the starring role. The eggplant was creamy and well-seasoned (though not pungently spiced.) We'll be back for this dish—it's wholly satisfying.
Though we weren't that into the hookah-bar remix soundtrack or the velvet-draped ceiling, we were charmed by the affordable and unusual vegetarian options at Khyber Pass. Go ahead and bring your kabab-loving friends, but make sure they have a taste of your delicious meat-free Ashak, too. (You might want to order an extra plateful, just in case.)
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