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Feb 4, 2009 11:00 AM

Amazing and Cheap Middle Eastern/Pakistani Food at Gulzaar Halal Restaurant in San Jose: For the Best Biryani Ever Don’t Order the Biryani

This is the best South Bay restaurant I've tried in about the last two years of living here. And it's good and cheap. Score! (Or however you say "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAALLL!" in Arabic.)

Gulzaar serves a combination of Middle Eastern and Pakistani (similar to Indian) food, dishes up halal meats, and is very popular among the Muslim and non-Muslim communities. For $20 two people can leave very well fed and happy.

There are 4 manakesh on the menu - flat breads served hot out of a stone oven. The Zaatar one ($2.95) is covered in thyme and sesame seeds. It's a very strong and distinct taste. I like it a lot but a little goes a long way.

The Lentil Soup ($4.25 regular/$5.95 large) is the best I've ever had in my life. The owner includes a little cilantro and a tiny bit of fried onion (I think that's what it is) on top.

One visit I had the Chicken Samosa ($2.25) which consisted of ground chicken and spices). It was also very good.

Two dishes on the menu sound almost the same - the Chicken Tikka plate and the Chicken Biryani (each is $9.99). The owner recommended the Chicken Tikka to us and said to order it spicy. He said they only use chicken breast meat in the chicken dishes, so it was a relief not to have any scary pieces. This is going to sound weird but the Chicken Tikka is the best version of chicken biryani I've ever had. Basically the Chicken Tikka is like a biryani - there are large hunks of chicken served over rice with lots of nuggets of spice, herbs, and whatever else is in there.

On another visit we had the actual Chicken Biryani. I don't remember how it was different but I remember that we declared that the Chicken Tikka was better so we've ordered that ever since. An herbed yogurt sauce is served on the side of both dishes, and it serves as a nice raita to cool down the spiciness. (The spicing is the perfect level of spiciness and not too spicy.)

The owner is also the server. He is amazingly friendly and nice, and answers questions about dishes in detail. On our last visit he gave us a very tasty sweet made from milk, topped with a pistachio that was left over from a catering job (most of their business is catering). I forgot to mention - they also have a bakery case with a few breads and sweets.

After you order at the counter, the owner brings over all the accoutrements - a tray of plastic utensils and a pitcher of ice water, which are enough to take over the adjacent seats. The dining area is simple and just consists of a few small tables and some long communal ones with plastic tablecloths.

Recommendations for your first visit:
I recommend the Zaatar (or another flat bread), Lentil Soup (large), and Chicken Tikka Plate (order spicy). This is enough to serve two (you'll have to split up the Lentil Soup and Chicken Tikka yourself).

I'm still exploring the menu (I've only been three times but this is an excellent addition to the weekend lunch rotation.)

Gulzaar Halal Restaurant & Bakery
1880 W San Carlos St
San Jose, CA 95128
(408) 292-2786

Mon-Thu. 10:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Sat-Sun. 11:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.

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  1. this report is excellent! thanks for the tip.

    one question: is the owner who is also the server also the only cook? i wonder because of many reports on Lahore Karahi, where food is very good but service is exceptionally slow because the owner wears three hats.

    not necessarily bad to have an extended lunch/dinner, but you'd want to know before you go.

    1. Ah yes, this was my favorite Lebanese resto, Just Laziz. Haven't been able to bring myself to try it under the current owner. I'm glad to hear that it still has manakeesh, is there a shwarma spit?

      1880 W San Carlos St, San Jose, CA

      3 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        I don't actually know if there is a shwarma spit. You can't see into the kitchen from the restaurant. I notice that two of the dishes involve shredded chicken breast (maybe it's shwarma?)

        The service here isn't slow. The owner appeared to have someone in the kitchen doing the cooking, but I'm not 100% certain.

        1. re: katya

          Sounds like a remodel then, the cooking and the spit were on display before.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            From the outside there are two doors (one is always closed because you'd end up in the kitchen) which makes me think this place might have expanded into a second storefront. The dining area is fairly small though.

      2. I tried the chicken tikka plate, it's excellent. Unusual spicing for the chicken. The biriyani is complex and includes some lentils. I'd go out of my way to get this again.

        Lentil soup = dal was good, not exciting.

        Baba ganoush was so unusual that at first I thought they'd given me hummus: very smooth, fairly thick, intense olive flavor. Good but different.

        Zaatar manakeesh, the spice mix was great but the bread seemed undercooked. Pitas were fine, nothing special.

        There was definitely at least one person in the back in addition to the guy running the cash register.

        New hours, 11:30am-7:30pm Sunday-Thursday.

        1. Still going strong.

          I had the beef kebob plate - two tender, nicely seasoned kabobs over a mountain of biryani rice - and a chicken samosa.

          So often a samosa is a stodgy mess of unidentifiable, mushy meat with bits of carrot and potato in a stale shell. This was the complete opposite: beautifully spiced, nicely minced, slightly oily but still crisp. Ate it with the accompanying sweet sauce and also the mint sauce that came with the beef.

          The place was rammed late Saturday afternoon.

          Uncle and auntie work the front, and there's someone else cooking in the back.

          3 Replies
          1. re: stravaigint

            Back for chicken and rice pudding.

            We chatted with the owner. It's actually gone through two ownership changes since it was Lebanese - very briefly to a Pakistani owner, and then to the current Afghan owner, which explains some of the items on the menu.

            The kind auntie who serves is Palestinian. She disappeared for a long time last night, so I wonder if she is indeed doing the cooking.

            The owner discontinued the ice cream - his cute 5yro kept raiding the freezer :-) So we had the rice pudding instead. Very mild flavor, and I didn't detect any rose water, but quite delicious. Crunchy almonds on top, and what I'm guessing was finely crushed cardamom. Consistency-wise, it didn't slide off the spoon, but it also wasn't overly thick. I'd prefer a touch creamier.

            BTW he kept asking people if they'd found it on y*lp. It was displayed quite prominently in a "best of" San Jose recently.

            1. re: stravaigint

              Is the "rice pudding" item FIRNI? At least in the Afghan era?
              It isnt on the online menu.

              CHAPLI KEBAB and Firni are definitely worth a detour off 280 or 880.

            2. re: stravaigint

              What vivid pix! Thanks for bringing us up to date on the ownership.