The basmati rice is fragrant with spices and scattered with raisins and slivers of carrot like jewels. Platter-size ovals of naan are rushed from tandoor to table, warm and pillowy. And the restaurant’s namesake offering — kebabs of beef, lamb and chicken, seasoned in a variety of ways but always charred to order in the tandoor — are textbook examples of a style of cooking you may know from India, Pakistan and Persia.
The food at Ariana Kabob House in Duluth is a little different, however: Best I can tell, this is the only place in Atlanta that serves the rustic, meat-heavy cuisine of Afghanistan. I’m crazy about it, and have every reason to believe you will be, too.
At Ariana, you may savor “kofta chalau” (Afghan beef meatballs in a gently piquant sauce of tomato, onion, garlic and hot pepper) and Shinwari-style goat and chicken stews smothered in fiery red gravy. (Look for “Shinwary Goat Karahi” and “Shinwary Chicken Karahi,” so named for the vessel in which they are cooked: a deep, heavy, two-handled vessel called a karahi.)
Think of these deeply satisfying dishes as curries. Eat them with rice — or scoop them with naan. Now soothe your palate with a bite of salad or a glass of doogh, a salty yogurt drink mixed with chopped cucumber and dried mint leaves. Perfect.
Ariana, a halal kitchen in a Peachtree Industrial Boulevard strip mall that includes a barber shop, a wine store and a Venezuelan restaurant, is the sort of place where the person who takes your order might well be the person who cooks your food. If you aren’t familiar with this tandoor-centered cuisine (I wasn’t), the staff is eager to assist. They will guide you so you get a variety of tastes and flavors, and don’t end up with a redundancy of naan and rice.
On my first of three recent visits, I wanted to try the minced-beef kebabs (labeled here as “koibedei,” a variation of Persian koobideh) and the kofta chalau (meatballs in gravy). As my server pointed out, that would mean a double whammy of ground beef. He suggested shredded lamb shank instead of the meatballs. Great idea. Both plates were fantastic, an excellent introduction, especially when sprinkled with a bit of the condiments (cooling yogurt sauce and a prickly chile sauce, both house made) and toppings (dried sumac, dried sour grape leaves). Housed in identical glass shakers, the seasonings are to Afghan kebabs what grated Parm and chile flakes are to pizza.
“Qabili palau” — aka Quabili or Kabuli palaw — is a national dish of Afghanistan, a pilaf traditionally simmered with stock and lamb and showered with raisins, slivered carrots and pistachios. (It’s similar to, though not quite as grandiose as Persian jeweled rice.) At Ariana, you may request it with lamb, chicken or eggplant. I ordered it the classic way, with lamb, and was surprised to get it with a whole braised lamb shank. Sure, the meat was succulent, but the method strikes me as a little lazy. If only the kitchen would take the lamb off the bone and stir it in.
Two other nice dishes, both under appetizers, are the banjan (smashed fried eggplant with tomato, garlic and a drizzle of yogurt) and Nando’s Afghan chicken. The banjan comes with naan for dipping, and the chicken, the restaurant’s take on a South African peri-peri chain’s star attraction, can be had as wings, a half or whole bird. For lovers of hot chicken, wings and the like, this stellar bird alone is worth a trip to Ariana’s.
Because the restaurant clientele includes members of the Indian and Pakistani communities, you will find some dishes with names you may recognize from Indian menus: tandoori chicken, chicken tikka, chicken 65, samosas (labeled here as sambosa). The difference, I was told, is that they are made with fresh herbs, aromatics and peppers, rather than mainly dried spices. Your tandoori chicken will be dyed orange-red like its Indian cousin, but the spice level will be a bit mellower. A “tikka lamb” kebab was well seasoned and tender, but it had none of the red coloration of Indian tikka.
Most kebab plates come on a bed of nicely seasoned Afghan basmati rice and a simple salad of iceberg, radish, cucumber and crunchy purple cabbage. If you go with a group, you can get assorted kebab platters with rice and salad for anywhere from four to 10 people, from $69.99 to $149.99.
During one visit, a father and son came in for takeout. As they were leaving, the kid exclaimed: “This smells surprisingly good.”
Surprisingly? I laughed. The dad seemed a tad embarrassed. But I understood the essence of the little boy’s left-handed compliment. Trying a new cuisine can be risky. The only issue I see with Ariana is that the food can be highly addictive.
ARIANA KABOB HOUSE
Overall rating: 2 of 4 stars (very good)
Food: classic Afghan kebab and rice dishes with a few Indian-Pakistani options
Setting: casual spot in a suburban strip mall, with counter and table service
Service: kind, happy to help you navigate the cuisine
Best dishes: Naan. Banjan (eggplant dip). Nando’s Afghan half chicken. Kabuli palaw (written here as “qabili palau”). Kofta chalau (with lamb). Shinwari goat karahi. Chicken tandoori and “koibedei” (minced beef) kebabs.
Vegetarian selections: Veggie samosa. Channa (chickpeas with gravy and naan). Veggie sabzi chalau (chopped fresh spinach with garlic). Veggie borani badinjon (grilled eggplant with rice). Vegetarian wrap with eggplant.
Price range: $$
Credit cards: all major
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Sundays
Parking: plenty of free parking in lot
MARTA station: no
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: quiet, though we’ve never experienced the room crowded
Address, phone: 2870 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Duluth. 470-292-3774
Website: None. On Facebook as Ariana Kabob House
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