Last Updated on November 1, 2021 by Jeremy
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Periodically we'll lament about what Pittsburgh needs, and when it comes to the city's dining scene, the answer is always the same- fewer gastropubs and more international restaurants.
Not just any international restaurants (although we'd certainly take whatever came out), but restaurants with cuisine from countries that are woefully underrepresented in the region. One such country whose cuisine was lacking in the city was Afghanistan, but we're now happy to report that Carnegie is home to a wonderful spot right on Main Street- Afghan Kabab House.
While you may find the flavors of the kababs to be in line with other delicious Middle Eastern fare you've had in the city, you'll do well to throw on several of the Afghan appetizers as these are true gems that are unlike just about anything we've had to date.
Afghan Kabab House Shines With Traditional Afghan Fare
We started our meal out with a spread of two traditional appetizers, bolani and burani badanjan- these are truly not to be missed.
First off, it is worth noting that the appetizers here run at a rather respectable price point ($5-$6 during our 2021 visit) but are almost standard appetizer-size on the plate. Had we thought about it, we should've just ordered them all and happily dealt with the leftovers later.
The bolani is a fried flatbread that is stuffed with potatoes and leaks. It looks almost like a naan bread in terms of how it is charred on the outside but was loaded with the two ingredients that made for a rather rich and savory flavor combination. It was supposed to come with a house sauce for dipping according to the online menu, but we did not receive any (and didn't know to ask) but, to be honest, the flatbread shined on its own without a single complaint from us.
The burani badanjan is another simple dish of Afghan eggplants cooked in tomatoes with oil. The acidity of this one made for a nice counterpoint to the bread, and we found we used the bread as a vehicle to scoop up the eggplant in lieu of the above-mentioned sauce. A true perfect pairing.
In our next visit, we're going to have to try the mantu dumplings, dolma, falafel, and other appetizers because if these were any indication, the rest are going to be delightful as well.
Their online menu also suggested you can get a mix of three appetizers for $10 as well, but we did not note that opportunity when at the restaurant. It is entirely likely we missed it, but won't make that mistake next time if we can try more dishes for the same price. So be on the lookout for that as a possibility too!
You Wont Go Wanting for Meat in the Kababs
For our kababs, we went one platter and one wrap to try and get a decent cross-section of the vehicles for the meat. Vegetarians may have trouble here for the mains on the menu as it is decidedly meat-heavy, but for us, we were there for it.
The beef kabab was ordered platter style and served with rice, onion, lemon, and a side salad. Much like the appetizers, the website indicated there should have been a sauce, but it was not served with it. This would've likely enhanced the dish a fair bit, but we have to admit (as sauce addicts), that the heavily spiced meat and seasoned rice didn't need it here either (albeit less-so than the appetizers). How they can get away with serving this monster plate plus a salad for about $11 should warrant its own discussion as well- what a deal!
The rice was quite an interesting element to this dish as it tasted like it was cooked in stock and seasoned with herbs like cumin. It had a depth and richness to it that you do not normally expect from conventional sides of rice and was a nice surprise. After the appetizers, we were stuffed from just one kabab and had ample leftovers to take home.
The wrap came out much like traditional shawarma- a chicken kabab topped with lettuce, onion, tomato, and a creamy white sauce. It was middle-of-the-road in terms of size but did not leave us wanting more meat or toppings at its ~$8 price point. Personally, as far as meats were concerned, the beef stood out for having a bit stronger flavor thanks to its intense seasoning. But considering I devoured the wrap in a grand total of about three minutes, I have to admit I was still rather pleased.
Really, when it comes down to it, the only real downside to Afghan Kabab House has little to do with its menu, and more to do with its space. The restaurant is incredibly undersized for its (now immense) popularity. The four tables found inside were packed with people when we arrived, and the order-at-the-counter setup ensured a steady stream of people coming in placing orders for takeout, dine-in, and picking up orders placed over the phone. Bustling isn't as strong of a word to describe this one, so just be prepared when visiting as table dining may not be guaranteed.
Our initial post on social media spoke true to Afghan Kabab House's popularity as well. One post blew up, was seen by 65,000 people, with many readers commenting on how they either want to go or are regulars and love the spot. Clearly, the secret about this joint is already out and we are pleased to see it.
As the word continues to get out about this lovely restaurant, keep in mind that there could continue to be some small hangups like those mentioned above (seating, waits for orders, missing sauces, etc.). All that being said, for wonderful Afghan food like this, we'll overlook all of these details as they are, by and large, minor and should not overshadow a restaurant that is greatly needed in the community.
Afghan Kabab House is located at 231 E Main Street in Carnegie, PA.