-Grubbing in Chicago
Afghan Cuisine in Albany Park
There’s a new Afghan restaurant worth checking out in Albany Park. Helmand Restaurant opened last month in the space where Noon O Kabab used to be (they moved a few doors down). Helmand isn’t the first restaurant in Chicago serving the food of Afghanistan but there’s only been a handful of them over the years. For those that might be wondering no this Helmand has no relation to the long gone Helmand in Wrigleyville that was commonly reviewed in the Tribune and owned by the half brother of former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. This Helmand is also named after the largest province in Afghanistan.
I recently visited Helmand for lunch and very much enjoyed my visit which started with a complimentary glass of black tea (green is also an option). I had read over at LTHforum that the Mantu was wonderful which is kind of what got me to visit in the first place so that was an easy choice as far as what to get. Mantu are Afghan dumplings similar to Xiao Long Bao is size. They’re stuffed with beef (or lamb)and mixed with lots of onion and spices and steamed before being covered in a mix of sauce that includes yogurt and oil. Helmand also adds a few spoonful's of tomato lentil sauce and the final result is are of the best dumplings in town right now. I could eat these often.
Since my visit was during lunch they had a menu of lunch specials that I decided to focus in on for my main course. The Chenjah is a popular kebab in Iran and also Afghanistan where it’s typically made with lamb. The lunch special comes with one skewer plus a ginormous pile of rice. You can choose among a few types of rice with the Afghani Pulao being the way to go. Tender strains of basmati rice are covered in raisins and slivers of carrots. The rice gives off all sorts of aromatics while the lamb has some nice smoke flavor. My platter came with three halves of soft and warm locally sourced pita, a small bowl of hummus, a salad, and a couple sauces including a cool yogurt concoction and a not so spicy green salsa that worked really nice with the meat and the rice. You’ll find a jar of what I believe to be sumac (or maybe crushed Aleppo pepper) at each table. I used that to enhance both the dumplings and the kabab. Mike Sula recently had a nice piece on Helmand over at the Reader and he suggests the Afghan style Seekh Kababs so I’ll try those next time I visit.
4661 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60625