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Getting to know you, Afghanistan

Food from a place we usually only hear about

A little bit better quality lunch than I'm accustomed to. Chicken Qalbi with coriander chutney. Ariana Kabob House.
A little bit better quality lunch than I'm accustomed to. Chicken Qalbi with coriander chutney. Ariana Kabob House.
Place

Ariana Kabob House

9910 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Suite A, San Diego

I doubt I'm alone in associating the word kabob (or kebab) with coastal Mediterranean countries — the skewered meat typically served alongside pitas and tahini, or tzatziki. However, Mira Mesa's Ariana Kabob House offers a fairly different experience, serving the dishes of a landlocked nation most of us should probably know a lot more about: Afghanistan.

These are not the kebabs you're thinking of.

I'd admittedly never eaten Afghani cuisine before wandering into Ariana, and whatever my expectations, they were exceeded. Checking the menu posted outside, I knew the prices would be reasonable, and being that the place exists in a small shopping center in an area rife with shopping centers, I figured it would be casual, with plastic utensils and furniture. Not a bit.

Though not a rigidly formal atmosphere, I did almost feel underdressed for lunch. The table settings included proper silverware and folded linen napkins. The dining room felt spacious and airy yet meticulously arranged, decorated with musical instruments, clothing and kites, and in particular a very large painting depicting a group of traditionally dressed Afghan men on horseback.

Knowing so little about the food, I asked the curt but friendly proprietor for a recommendation. Naturally, the kabob came up, but before I could commit he suggested that the chicken qalbi was very good, and popular. Every entrée is $9 for lunch, so why not?

A huge painting watching over you.

I went with that and watched as groups of co-workers from nearby business parks came in and out, and a few others in work attire dropped in for phone orders. Sipping an iced cardamom black tea, I took a little more time to pore over the menu and noticed that, among unfamiliar names like korme sabsi (sautéed beef and puréed spinach) were more familiar ones like curry, dal, kofta, and sambosa. Forehead meet palm. Afgjhanistan is located between the Middle East and South Asia, so it makes perfect sense that there should be a commingling of culinary traditions going on here.

The qalbi arrived, consisting of chicken thighs served over seasoned brown rice and topped by carrots and raisins. It reminded me of Persian dishes I've tried, with fragrant herbs and interplay between savory and sweet. On the side was a dense, flavorful bread reminiscent of focaccia and a small bowl of spicy coriander chutney, which I was encouraged to use over everything.

I'll be frank: carrots and raisins are not the fruit and vegetable combination I've waiting for all my life. However, the chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and exquisitely tender, and that spicy chutney cut through the sweetness to add to a complex layering of flavors.

In time, I hope I can refer to some of the dishes served here without comparing them to those of other cultures better represented in our restaurant landscape. In the meantime, we can be glad to have such a worthy representation relatively close at hand. I personally will be returning for dinner, when they add lamb dishes to an already comprehensive menu.

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A little bit better quality lunch than I'm accustomed to. Chicken Qalbi with coriander chutney. Ariana Kabob House.
A little bit better quality lunch than I'm accustomed to. Chicken Qalbi with coriander chutney. Ariana Kabob House.
Place

Ariana Kabob House

9910 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Suite A, San Diego

I doubt I'm alone in associating the word kabob (or kebab) with coastal Mediterranean countries — the skewered meat typically served alongside pitas and tahini, or tzatziki. However, Mira Mesa's Ariana Kabob House offers a fairly different experience, serving the dishes of a landlocked nation most of us should probably know a lot more about: Afghanistan.

These are not the kebabs you're thinking of.

I'd admittedly never eaten Afghani cuisine before wandering into Ariana, and whatever my expectations, they were exceeded. Checking the menu posted outside, I knew the prices would be reasonable, and being that the place exists in a small shopping center in an area rife with shopping centers, I figured it would be casual, with plastic utensils and furniture. Not a bit.

Though not a rigidly formal atmosphere, I did almost feel underdressed for lunch. The table settings included proper silverware and folded linen napkins. The dining room felt spacious and airy yet meticulously arranged, decorated with musical instruments, clothing and kites, and in particular a very large painting depicting a group of traditionally dressed Afghan men on horseback.

Knowing so little about the food, I asked the curt but friendly proprietor for a recommendation. Naturally, the kabob came up, but before I could commit he suggested that the chicken qalbi was very good, and popular. Every entrée is $9 for lunch, so why not?

A huge painting watching over you.

I went with that and watched as groups of co-workers from nearby business parks came in and out, and a few others in work attire dropped in for phone orders. Sipping an iced cardamom black tea, I took a little more time to pore over the menu and noticed that, among unfamiliar names like korme sabsi (sautéed beef and puréed spinach) were more familiar ones like curry, dal, kofta, and sambosa. Forehead meet palm. Afgjhanistan is located between the Middle East and South Asia, so it makes perfect sense that there should be a commingling of culinary traditions going on here.

The qalbi arrived, consisting of chicken thighs served over seasoned brown rice and topped by carrots and raisins. It reminded me of Persian dishes I've tried, with fragrant herbs and interplay between savory and sweet. On the side was a dense, flavorful bread reminiscent of focaccia and a small bowl of spicy coriander chutney, which I was encouraged to use over everything.

I'll be frank: carrots and raisins are not the fruit and vegetable combination I've waiting for all my life. However, the chicken was perfectly cooked, moist and exquisitely tender, and that spicy chutney cut through the sweetness to add to a complex layering of flavors.

In time, I hope I can refer to some of the dishes served here without comparing them to those of other cultures better represented in our restaurant landscape. In the meantime, we can be glad to have such a worthy representation relatively close at hand. I personally will be returning for dinner, when they add lamb dishes to an already comprehensive menu.

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Comments
1

Ian, thank you for the review! I did not know another Afghani restaurant existed in San Diego. I usually visit Khyber Pass in Hillcrest. By the way, they have many lamb dishes.

April 16, 2014

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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