A strip mall storefront restaurant serving Indian and Pakistani food.
9272 Miramar Road, San Diego
I wandered into Khan Baba Kabab House unprepared. Not because I’d never eaten Pakistani food but because I was alone, looking for a simple lunch.
Khan Baba offers both Pakistani and Indian, and my first inclination was to order the chicken tikka roll, which came wrapped in a large flat piece of naan bread. That would have been the easy thing but also the boring thing. I already know I like chicken tikka. I also knew I was likely to enjoy the daily special, a goat biryani.
But Pakistani cuisine is the rarer find here, and there were dishes on the menu I’d never encountered. Lahori fish for example, or beef nihari. The former turned out to be a lightly fried tilapia, the latter a spicy stewed beef shank. And thanks to the tenets of Hinduism, you don’t find beef at Indian restaurants.
The Peshwari Chapli Kebab
I asked for the most popular dish on the menu, and my server referred me to the Peshwari Chapli Kebob. That would be from Peshawar, a town near the Khyber Pass leading into Afghanistan. I didn’t have a clue what to expect and thought it’d be beef skewers. Turns out, it’s basically fried burger patties. Heavily spiced fried burger patties. A coworker from Pakistan once brought his wife’s cooking to the office and dared me to eat it. The joke was the spice would be too strong from my white-bred belly. In that case, my stomach held up admirably. After Khan Baba, less so.
I was served four spiced patties on a plate, dressed only by a few pieces of white onions. Looking back at the menu, I see there should have been a couple slices of tomato there too. I’m a little miffed about that, because tomatoes would have helped.
Don’t get me wrong, the kebabs were delicious. The patties had charred crispy on the outside, while the meat inside remained tender. More than a burger patty, it resembled meatloaf — although instead of bread crumbs and ketchup, the finely ground beef was complemented by chopped chili peppers and spice.
I’m not sure how chapli kebab is supposed to be eaten, but I wound up wrapping the patties in my side order of naan and delivering a heavy dose of a spicy yogurt and cilantro sauce provided in a plastic squeeze bottle. It was spicy, but not so devastating my mouth couldn’t deal with it. The rest of my body found cause for concern.
It turns out Khan Baba is halal, and the beef is grass fed and hormone free. But the mistake I made was taking on this entire dish alone — like I would ever sit down and eat four burger patties. This wonderful casual restaurant should be experienced family style. Share the chicken, share the goat, and share the chapli kebab. Get it with rice as well as naan. Order spinach, lentils, or chickpeas to go with it all, and feast.