Drive along Topanga Canyon Boulevard near the 118 freeway and the topography resembles Radiator Springs, the town from Pixar’s “Cars” that’s framed with craggy rock formations. However, you won’t find Flo’s V8 Café or Lightning McQueen once you reach Lassen Street. Instead, a strip mall houses Woodlands Indian Vegetarian restaurant, a Brazilian jiu jitsu studio, and best of all, Skewers Halal.
A small plant-lined patio gives way to a dining room with cream-colored walls, and tables with lime green chairs. Order from the counter fronting an open kitchen, and notice the conveyer belt pizza oven — if it looks familiar, that means you were a customer at Pizza Ola, the space’s previous tenant.
Skewers Halal serves Italian standbys like pizzas and sub sandwiches, plus chicken wings, but you’re far better off going with the Afghan specialties. Chapli kabob is clearly the restaurant’s top skewer. Halal top round and sirloin are ground in-house, yielding lean patties spiced with scallions, cumin, cilantro, chilies, and garlic. Charred chapli packs a punch and comes with Kandahar-style pulao, a spiced rice dish tossed with vermicelli strands.
No matter what, the meat is Halal, meaning the animals were raised naturally, slaughtered humanely, and butchered according to permissible Islamic laws. Owner Raz Doust butchers on-site. Meanwhile, the Afghan salad that comes with any meal combines diced tomato, onion, cucumber and herbs, and each order also arrives with sturdy, whole-wheat, poppy seed studded Afghan naan bread that’s baked in-house.
Beef koobideh ($10.99) is chapli’s milder cousin, featuring casing-free top round skewers marinated in garlic and onion and dried cilantro. Lamb kabob ($10.99) involves cubes of leg meat that luxuriate in a tangy blend of yogurt, lemon rind, garlic, and black pepper before getting charbroiled and dusted with sumac. You can also order chicken chunks, while rice, naan, and salad serve as co-stars.
No matter what you order, be sure to request green chutney, an addictive blend of cilantro, fresh garlic, and a bit of black pepper. Doust makes a surprising addition — sweet kiwi — to balance the sauce’s noticeable kick.
While The Halal Guys draw lines across the U.S. with chicken and rice franchises inspired by the original Midtown Manhattan street cart, Skewers Halal serves a version of chicken & rice ($8.99) that utterly schools them. The Chatsworth plate features chopped dark and white meat chicken lashed with a pair of house-made sauces. Creamy white sauce has tangy bite thanks to sour cream, lemon, and garlic. Red hot sauce combines garlic, black pepper, cayenne and vinegar to great effect.
Doust’s dexterity with dough extends to bolani ($6.99), a supple whole-wheat flatbread stuffed with leeks and spices and served with aforementioned chutney. He pointed out that the chives are originally from Kandahar, adding “You will not find that in any market.” Bolani is apparently from Afghan villages and is now ubiquitous. Doust said, “Go to any high-end Afghan dinner and you will find that.”
Raz Doust, with a last name that translates from Urdu to English as “friend,” grew up in Kandahar. He ran Italian restaurants for two decades, including Raz’s Little Italy in Agoura Hills, Encino, and now West Hills, which his sister runs. He also had restaurants in Canoga Park, New York, and Pomona. Doust took a break to advise the U.S. military in Afghanistan before returning to L.A. to open Skewers Halal, his ninth restaurant.
Skewers Halal has seen one casualty from the opening menu: pakoras. Doust had been slicing potatoes and chunks of chicken, battering them, and deep-frying. No longer will their golden sheathes grace plates. Pakoras proved too labor intensive.
Vermicelli pudding, an Afghan play on rice pudding, is the only house-made dessert. Sadly, Doust was sold out during my visit. Apparently sweets are popular in Radiator Springs.
9820 Topanga Canyon Blvd.