Tuesday–Friday: 12 p.m.–9 p.m.
Saturday–Sunday: 1 p.m.–9 p.m.
3142 Main Street
As we arrived to the South Salt Lake restaurant Afghan Kitchen, located just off State Street and 3300 South, I knew that it could possibly be one of the best off-the-beaten-path meals I have had in Salt Lake. I imagined what it may be like to enter a traditional restaurant in Afghanistan—the sights, sounds and aromas one would experience—as I entered the plain building, with lettering spelling out Afghan Kitchen, smiling faces in consumption of food and the restaurant’s windows revealing guests happily conversing. I just knew that this would be good.
The decor is simple—a few framed photos of Afghan figures and cultural scenes and dining tables. I had never experienced culinary samplings from this part of the world, and was excited for the new tastes to dance upon my palate as the hint of spice tickled my nose.
First up was our appetizer, Mantu. You can find this served as street food or in busy markets in Afghanistan. This traditional dish consists of ground beef and lamb accompanied by onion and traditional Afghan spices, wrapped in a homemade, flour pastry dough and steamed in a multi-layer steamer. It was my favorite dish of our meal at Afghan Kitchen. The dumpling-style starter was a perfect balance of spice, meat and pastry coated with a yogurt sauce and split peas. Mantu is well-rounded and balanced in boastful yet subtle flavor, making it easy to recognize why it is a rich part of the country’s culinary heritage. You’ll finish wanting more.
Keep reading to hear about the main dishes, but Mantu was my favorite, if I had to pick only one. That said, I would recommend anything I ordered on the menu, and I would definitely recommend stepping out of your comfort zone for a unique experience at Afghan Kitchen. Next up, Lamb Qurma. It’s no secret: I love lamb. For some, it is an acquired taste, but for me, it’s heaven. Served with rice, the boneless lamb was the second table favorite. I enjoyed the hints of ginger in the tomato-based sauce atop the meat, with flavor enhancements provided by the cilantro/mint and yogurt side sauces.
Their naan is light and airy due to the baking process in extremely high heat, a technique used for over 100 years. I personally enjoyed this clay-oven-baked garlic naan because of its delicate texture and savory garlic taste. It disappeared instantly from its basket.
Our table consisted of a medical student, a marine, a yoga instructor and a writer, spanning three generations. Of the four, two love all things wine and culinary, and the others are in the “reach for a bag of Doritos” phase of life while attending college. I wanted all to experience authentic Afghanistan cuisine, so I could secretly watch their body language. Up to this point in our meal, everyone was all smiles and no food was left on the table. Three for three!
Mix Tandoori Kabob was up next: a skewer of ground beef and a skewer of boneless chicken. The chicken appeared a painted-orange color (most likely due to the use of saffron), making the students at the table believe it was a vegetable and afraid to dive in. They gasped as they realized it was chicken, perfectly cooked at that. Too often, kabobs can be overcooked and chicken becomes rubbery. The Tandoor char-broil-oven cooking process provided a melt-in-your-mouth flavor to the mix kabob, a dish unique to Afghanistan.
Last, we enjoyed Burani Banjan, another traditional recipe of eggplant in a tomato-based sauce. I have come to love eggplant in the past year, and this was extremely tasty; however, my only complaint is the eggplant was slightly soggy. The spice of the sauce offered cardamom, cumin and turmeric. I find the spice from Afghanistan to be milder than that in Indian cuisine, with a heartiness through to the last bite.
Afghanistan has a history of expertise in cooking and hospitality, along with a passion to serve guests a spread of food. Afghan Kitchen lives up to its heritage. The restaurant is unassuming from the street, but don’t let that fool you. There is something to be said for simplicity. Afghan Kitchen is a place welcoming all walks of life to share a passion for their traditional cuisine deeply rooted in their soul. Breaking bread and experiencing culture in the form of culinary discovery is something we should all do more of. And of course, always say yes to Afghan breads.