For years, Angelenos have been able to find a culinary oasis at the end of a narrow turnaround next to Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Movie Theater. Homesick Iranian cabbies would swing by Ruby Room Restaurant, and before that, Pistachio Grill. To start July, the restaurant became Afghani Kabob House thanks to a Bay Area family.
A planter-lined patio with worn red and white tiles and trickling fountain greets diners. Enter the dining room by stepping under red and black tassels. Inside, tan walls are lined with paintings of traditional Afghan horse riders. Most impressive are Sami Nadi’s sculpted 3-D paintings of historic sites like the Buddhas of Bamiyan and a tower at Herat. You’ll even find an uncanny take on the famed 1985 National Geographic cover of an Afghan girl.
Olia Imami and brother Aziz Omar started De Afghanan Cuisine in 1994 in the Afghan-American hotbed of Fremont and now run five Bay Area branches with son/nephew son Kayon Imami. They reached out to a real estate broker about an L.A. expansion, leading to this location. In 2017, the family plans to switch the name from Afghani Kabob House to De Afghanan Cuisine, after the longtime Persian restaurant space becomes more synonymous with Afghan food.
Other Afghani restaurants in L.A., mainly in the western San Fernando Valley, hedge bets by offering dishes from different countries. Afghani Kabob House features food and drinks exclusively from Afghanistan, starting with their amuse bouche.
That’s right, Afghani Kabob House actually provides each guest with a complimentary bowl of shornakhod to start. A small portion of sliced potato and garbanzo beans comes tossed with tangy vinegar and cilantro. If you like what you taste, they have a side of shornakhod listed on the menu.
Bolani ($9.99) is a griddled flatbread that’s typically stuffed with potatoes. That’s an option at De Afghanan Cuisine, but I recommend the version with a vivid orange blend of butternut squash, chopped scallions, and "special seasonings." It comes served with homemade yogurt dusted with dried mint on the side.
Considering the restaurant name, it should come as little surprise that kabobs are listed in the center of the foldout menu, all served with basmati rice, thick slices of Afghan bread, and a salad of tomato, cucumber and cilantro. Chaplee kebab is Afghanistan’s most famous kabob export, and isn’t even cooked on a skewer. Instead, ground sirloin is blended with scallions, spices, and dried chile flakes, formed into twin patties, and then char-grilled. Lamb was tempting, boneless chicken breast was not, and we ended up with a plate of teka beef kabob ($14.99) starring tender cubes of tri-tip marinated with salt, pepper, lemon, and corn oil before getting seared on the grill.
Quabili pallow ($14.99), a well-seasoned rice dish named for the city/province of Kabul, features a big bed of basmati topped with sautéed raisins and julienne carrots. Other versions around town are fragrant with cardamom and contain pistachios. In comparison, this plate dish may appear a bit one-note, if not for the fork tender, bone-in lamb shank that has marrow to give if you’re willing to twist a knife in the opening at the end of the bone.
If you’re a vegetarian, or just want a lighter option, Afghani Kabob House also serves several variations on spinach, mushrooms, and eggplant.
Dumplings are a big part of Afghan culinary culture. Aushak, the country’s legendary leek dumplings, are nowhere in sight, but you will find mantu ($11.99). These dumplings sport thicker skins that contain seasoned ground beef and sautéed onions. Up top, you’ll find a drizzle of yogurt with more dried mint, a tomato slurry, and carrots and peas that didn’t look or taste like they came from the Santa Monica Farmers Market, but still helped to round out the dish.
To drink, if you "Wanta Fanta," the restaurant will sell you a bottle, but you’re better off with dogh ($3.50) a tart, refreshing house-made yogurt drink served over ice with minced cucumbers and a dusting of dried mint. At Afghani Kabob House, the family seems to have an endless supply of dried mint.
Firni ($3.99) is Afghan milk pudding topped with crushed pistachios and fragrant with rosewater. Kayon Imami suggests pairing a bowl with hot black tea flavored with cardamom. They normally make baklava, but had sold out of the whole tray. Maybe it’s for the best. Baklava is just one more reason to stop at Afghani Kabob House the next time traffic (or hunger) strikes.
Afghani Kabob House, 8560 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, 310.854.1020, afghanikabobhouse.com