We really haven't had any Afghan style food since Kabul Market closed a year or so ago. So I was fascinated when I noticed that an Afghan Restaurant called Aria Kabob Cafe was opening in the same strip mall as Pho Fusion. It took quite a few months for Aria Kabob Cafe to open, but a couple of weeks back it finally did.
I noticed the $3.99 breakfast and $4.95 lunch signs, wondering what the heck was going on. And was even more puzzled when I walked in and read the menu.......
Bagels? Eggs? Smoothies....... Hot Dogs?
For $4.95, you'd get a plate of rice and two items from a not so promising looking steam table (the Missus would later prove me wrong).
Looking a bit closer at the menu I noticed the type of dishes I was looking for.
I had a seat at one of the tables in the small dining area and placed my order.... and waited...and waited.... and waited. About thirty minutes later my Lamb Tika Kabob Plate ($8.99) arrived.
Looking at my plate.... well, I was a bit underwhelmed. The salad was totally mass produced packaged stuff, as was the pita. Digging in changed my opinion...... I loved the brown basmati rice.... in fact I texted the Missus telling Her that I was actually eating brown rice and enjoying it. The rice was fluffy, fragrant, and was prepared well. The tangy spicy "chatney" was good.... though I really enjoyed the yogurt based dressing on my cubes of lamb. There wasn't a ton of lamb, but it was very good. I was amazed at how well it was prepared and cooked, soft and tender, but not mushy, and seasoned with a restrained hand. The juices of the lamb had soaked into the pita which made it even more delicious. You knew you were eating lamb, but was not overwhelmed with the "flavor of the pasture" (though I do love gamey lamb). This was a very pleasant surprise......though everyone else was ordering the $4.95 lunch, salads, and the such. On my way out, the gentleman working apologized for the wait, and asked me how I enjoyed my meal. My response? "It was good, well worth the wait." Though think I'll be calling ahead during a work week lunch.
The Missus, shocked that I had actually eaten brown rice (something I've been cooking for Her for months), just had to check this place out. On our visit I told Her, "this may take a while, but you'll enjoy the food." She had the Lamb Tika Kabob and really enjoyed it. I tried one of my favorites, the Chapli Kabob, here it's very well seasoned ground beef patties ($6.99):
The patties had a nice char on the exterior, with some nice cumin-coriander hints. While eating this I noticed something........ I wasn't using any sumac. Neither was the Missus. I guess that we both thought the seasoning was just right for our tastes.... I did use a liberal amount of the "dressing", and the Missus loved the Chatney. In spite of the wait (35 minutes this time), we both enjoyed the meal..... so we returned a couple of nights later.
The Missus started with the Borani Bonjan ($3.49), roasted eggplant in a tomato based sauce, topped with drizzles of tangy yogurt.
There was a noticeable, though subdued amount of spice, and even with all these very strong flavors you could still taste the eggplant.
The Missus noticed that the steam table was still up and running, even though it was dinner time, and went for the "two plus rice"....... Two items from the steam table.
This came with a plate of the brown basmati rice..... the Missus loved the cauliflower... a lot.....
By this time, for some reason, I became curious about the Fried Hot Dog..... it just seemed so out of place on the menu. Because of that, there seemed to be some sort of reverse-exotic mystery to it. And even though the young man replied, "well, it's a hot dog..... that's fried" when I asked about it, I still ordered it. I told the young man I'd take the Fried Hot Dog, with three toppings ( the way he'd eat it). And what I got was this......
Though the other dish I ordered was quite good, the Pakawra ($2.95):
These well spiced potato fritters were the hottest item I tried here..... they are also quite addictive if a bit on the heavy side. I enjoyed these, as the layers of flavors along with the spice kept me interested.. This time, our meal arrived pretty quickly......
A couple of days later, the Missus wanted the brown rice and cauliflower from Aria. I dropped by to see if they still had some on the steam table. Unfortunately, they weren't serving that on this day. But the gentleman working here, by the name of Mike, had a solution for me. By this time he recognized me, and told me "if you can come back in 45 minutes, we'll make it fresh for your wife." How's that for service? So I went and did some shopping, returned after 45 minutes, and the Missus got Her food.
You know, Mike could have just said "we don't have that today" and be done with it, but he went the extra mile for us. That along with the food, both priced right and delicious will keep us coming back.
Aria Kabob Cafe
8010 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92111