Sakeena Bary's Hilliard restaurant is worth seeking out for comforting Afghan fare.
Editor’s Note: Kabob Shack is currently closed for dine-in service but remains open for carryout and delivery via DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub.
At the end of June, on the day Kabob Shack was set to open, one clear thought raced through Sakeena Bary’s mind: “I don’t know how I got myself into this.” The daughter of Afghan immigrants had never worked a day in a restaurant. Now, here she was preparing to serve en masse the traditional fare her mother had taught her to make at home.
In truth, it was her husband’s idea. After relocating from the East Coast, he pointed out that the city lacked an Afghan restaurant. As far as Nasser Hussain was concerned, his wife was the perfect person to fill this obvious need.
He wasn’t wrong. Those, like myself, who have happened upon the sparse Hilliard eatery hidden in a plaza behind a Marathon gas station off Cemetery Road are grateful she and her business partner, Sheereda Hassan, took up the challenge. Their dishes—a slightly spicy interpretation of Afghan classics—are heady, aromatic and cooked with expert care.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The lamb shank ($14.99), coated in cumin, is rendered butter-soft after a low and slow four-hour simmer. Deep in character with onions and tomatoes, lentils in the daal chalau ($4.99/$8.99) maintain a pleasant bite. And an overnight soak in turmeric and yogurt leaves the glowing red chicken tikka kebab ($12.99) moist as a dewy morning.
But the greatest rewards lie in two dishes Bary knew had to be on her menu. The Afghan dumplings, known as mantu ($6.99 for six/$10.99 for 10), are a nonnegotiable first-time order. Each envelope-thin, two-bite dumpling is stuffed with ground beef lightly spiced with cumin seed and onion, then topped with a refreshing cilantro-spiked yogurt and a hefty spoonful of stewed lentils.
The other is chapli kebab, a thin cumin-spiced patty of beef ($12.99) or chicken ($11.99) with a creeping kick of cayenne. Order it as an entrée platter with two patties or in an Americanized interpretation as a burger served on a bun with fries ($8.99). While the latter is a popular order, it also means you’d miss out on one of the best parts of dining at Kabob Shack—the rice.
Heaping piles of long-grain rice come with every entrée in a portion large enough to be its own meal. The naturally sweet grain, known as sela rice, is tinted with browning sauce (instead of the more traditional caramelized sugar), seasoned with cumin and topped with sautéed carrots and raisins for tiny pops of candylike sweetness.
Whatever you’ve ordered, douse it in the house-made green chutney that accompanies each entrée—a sprightly mix of cilantro and subdued jalapeño heat.