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Having been open over twenty years, in varying locations, Khyber Pass must be filling a niche market for Afghan cuisine that most people might not suspect exists in the first place. With Afghanistan geographically splitting the difference between India and Persia, it follows that the food is also a sort of culinary blend of those two extremes.

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The decor at Khyber Pass is a series of beige and yellows with cobalt blue water glasses standing out like sapphires in a field of saffron. It's remarkably soothing.

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An appetizer called "mantu" ($6.95) was steamed dumplings filled with spice beef and covered in a yogurt sauce. It was sort of like Afghan pierogies, but with a spicy, minty flavor.

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Much like the cuisine of northern India, lamb plays a strong role on the menu at Khyber Pass. An entree of Yaghoot Chalow ($16.95) involved lamb stewed in a sauce based on sour cherries. The accompanying rice also had been cooked with cherries and been turned a bright pink color. The flavor of the dish was rather unique, though it did carry strange echoes of German and French game cookery, where fruit and berries are often incorporated into otherwise rich sauces.

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A dish of lamb curry ($16.95) was milder in spice than a similar dish might be in an Indian restaurant. The flavor, however, wasn't lacking in any respect.

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Dessert was the low point of the evening. Pistachio pudding underwhelmed, ultimately tasting like an unremarkable blancmange sprinkled with chopped nuts.

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Perhaps most remarkable was the signature, non-alcoholic drink on the menu. "Dugh," ($3.50) an Afghan preparation of salted yogurt and mint was absolutely ideal to accompany the stewed meat of the main dishes. The flavor was highly unorthodox, however, so less adventurous diners might do better with a sweet mango lassi ($4.50).

Khyber Pass Restaurant
523 University Ave
619-294-7579
Open daily 11:30-3 and 3-10

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