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Road Trip for Middle Eastern/Persian/Afghan - where should we go?

Tomorrow some friends and I are planning to take a short food road trip, possibly to East or South Bay (but potentially anywhere within a 70 mile radius of SF).

We're hoping to eat things that we normally can't eat in San Francisco - or at least at a place that is the best of its type in the Bay Area. We're intrigued by Afghan or Persian food, since it seems like options in San Jose/Fremont areas might be really good, but we'd potentially be open to any kind of food (or even make multiple stops)

I found this thread on Persian places in Peninsula - any updates on any of these?


And also references to Kabul Restaurant in Sunnyvale and Salang Pass in Fremont.

We'll probably be leaving SF around 10 AM and want to return by 3 or 4 PM....so the meal will be lunch.

We probably would not want to spend more than $30 per person.

We'd be open to other things too if they were really worth the trip - South Indian, Taiwanese, Croatian, Other Middle Eastern, etc. etc.

Any ideas? I want to come away from the lunch feeling like it was worth the drive, since I don't get to drive to places like Fremont or San Jose very often.

Thanks a lot!
Dave MP

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  1. To me, Kabul seems on par (or less) then Helmand in SF. I can't speak to any of the Persian places but it does sound more interesting because you hear less about it in NorCal, compared to Afghan.

    Also, there's, Falafel Drive in in San Jose that I've never been to but is on my list. Seems a bit casual for what you're looking for.

    A friend mentioned a place, Armenian Gourmet in Sunnyvale. I have no idea if it's good but I've had excellent Armenian food in SoCal and I've always wondered about NorCal.

    1. Helmand Palace is better than Kabul, although I like both. The best thing at Kabul is the kebabs.

      Worth the trip: Shalizaar in Belmont is like visiting another country, in part because it's filled with elegant expat Persians. Not exactly a stop on a crawl, since it's extremely gracious service and somewhat upscale. Still in your budget though. Also pretty close to the city, and you could hit Harmony in San Carlos while you're in the area for frozen yogurt.

      Salang Pass in Fremont is good and authentic, as is DeAfghanan, the tiny place across the street with the bread and kabobs. But more if you had some reason to drive that way than really worth an hour each way. I kept hoping for a more distinct looking Afghan neighborhood, but the community has been here 30+ years and is better assimilated than that.

      I love the falafel and banana shakes at Falafel Drive in but not the pita, and would detour there on your way somewhere else.

      Taiwainese is worthy of its own separate excursion.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Windy

        Shalizaar looks good. Thanks for the tip.

        Should we do a Taiwanese excursion instead? Is there anything else I'm not thinking of?

        1. re: Dave MP

          You could do a Taiwanese excursion another time. Iran and Afghanistan both deserve their own days.

          (sfbing: deer jerky!)

          1. re: Windy

            Deer jerky: Some people don't like it, but I love all forms of jerky. It is a little sweet, covered in sesame seeds and chile flakes. Kind of woody in texture, so your jaw gets a good work out without talking.

            There has to be something in that store that would suit your fancy, though. She said they pickle their own mangos and guava and other weird fruity things.

          2. re: Dave MP

            I've never had Korean in SF that matched Oakland or San Jose - I've only really been to brother's - but that's probably a different trip, and you should likely do oakland.

          3. re: Windy

            My one meal at Salang Pass last year was much better than anytime I ate at the old Helmand (many times before they closed). I haven't been to the Helmand Palace. The kadoo was not as sugary sweet, the aushak was much superior. The lamb shank with eggplant was really flavorful, and there was another dish with some kind of greens which also had more vibrant flavor and spicing. I left there feeling like it was the first time I had ever eaten real Afghan food.

          4. Salang Pass is a nice sit down restaurant. Their lamb, borani kadoo (spicy pumpkin), aushak (dumplings--they keep telling me they're derived from Chinese food for some reason), faloodeh (rice noodles in a rose water dessert) are particularly good. No matter how much we eat at Salang Pass, no one can resist going to De Afghanan for bolani and more kebabs to go. I think the bolani is much better at De Afghanan. There is also an Afghan grocery store next door to Salang Pass with fresh bread in the back. Fremont's kind of a dead town, though. We usually plan around a hike or fruit picking, but tomorrow is going to be ugly weatherwise, I think.

            If you head off to San Jose, no matter what you decide for your main meal, you can stop off in Grand Century Mall for snacks and stuff to take home--the food court has a lot of different random Vietnamese dishes. Sugarcane drinks, shakes, banh xeo with a huge plate of herbs and mustard greens on the side, coconut shrimp cakes (I can't remember the name, but they're pretty popular) are my favorites. The snack place on the end of the mall has better deer jerky, pickled guava, pickled mango, etc than the one closer to the middle, although they are kind of pushy about overloading your orders sometimes. Way, way better than the stuff at Lee's in SF. Also, I think the bakery at the front is cranking out fresh pandan waffles.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sfbing

              I love the Korma Challow at Salang Pass, a complex tomato sauce based dish with chicken or lamb, served over rice.

              I like the chicken kebab at De Afghanan most, I find it the most moist of all their offerings. Their bolani is huge!

              1. re: DezzerSF


                Salang Pass
                37462 Fremont Blvd, Fremont, CA 94536

                De Afghanan Kabob House
                37405 Fremont Blvd, Fremont, CA 94536

            2. If you head down the Peninsula you'll pass Kabul Afghan Restaurant in San Carlos, which in my opinion is superior to the (unrelated) Kabul Afghan in Sunnyvale on El Camino.

              1. NOTE: DaveMP has reposted his Vietnamese Snack Food Crawl in San Jose report, at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/597001

                -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM

                4 Replies
                1. re: Dave MP

                  Thanks for the report back! I'm glad to hear that you went with Vietnamese - a much better bet for something different than San Francisco than the Afghan places, I think. Do consider South Indian for cuisines in the future. It's another cuisine where the South Bay gives you a whole different set of options than does San Francisco.


                  1. re: Dave MP

                    Glad you had a good time at Century, even if the stands were a bit hit and miss. if I had known that you were going to eat mostly in San Jose, I would've also suggested nearby Bun Bo Hue An Nam, for their Bun Bo Hue with or without penis. It is really good--spicy with chunks of blood, pigs feet, beef leg, tendon, but not too offally. Comes with the traditional shaved banana blossom and without the inch thick layer of red grease. But if you had gone there, there probably would've been limited stomach room for the food court, so never mind.

                    You should definitely try Salang Pass and De Afghanan on your next road trip. I wonder if one's stomach could take combining them with a side trip to San Jose?

                    Thanks for the tip on Harmony-the SF yogurt places don't sound nearly as good.

                    1. re: sfbing

                      link 2

                      Bun Bo Hue An Nam
                      740 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95122

                      1. re: sfbing

                        I have to second Bun Bo Hue An Nam, best BBH I've had, and probably one of the best Vietnamese soups even.

                    2. Afghan:
                      De Afghanan Kabob House, Fremont

                      Shalizaar, Belmont (no question)

                      Zeni, San Jose (I've been to 9 Ethiopian restaurants and this was the best BY FAR)

                      New Kapadokia, Redwood City

                      Middle Eastern:
                      Gourmet Express, Milpitas (weekday lunch only)

                      Pakistani/Middle Eastern:
                      Gulzaar, San Jose

                      Indian sit down or buffet:
                      Turmeric, Sunnyvale

                      Armenian Gourmet was very mediocre in my one visit.

                      11 Replies
                      1. re: katya

                        Have you been to the De Afghanan Kabob locations in SF and Berkeley? How do they compare?

                        1. re: Dave MP

                          SF's was not as good as my memory of Fremont's chapli kabob.

                          1. re: Dave MP

                            I agree. Fremont is better than SF. I thought the chicken was drier here. Although, it will do in a pinch.

                            1. re: Dave MP

                              I've only been to the Fremont location. It's pretty much the opposite of where you'd go for a business lunch (i.e. it's a dive), but the chapli kabob (beef patties) and bolani (potato bread) are to die for.

                              Katya's Afghan rankings
                              1. De Afghanan, Fremont
                              2. Helmand Palace, San Francisco (I last went when it was The Helmand; I used to love their lunch buffet)
                              3. Kabul, San Carlos
                              4. Kabul, Sunnyvale
                              5. Salang Pass, Fremont
                              6. Pamir, Emeryville (food court)
                              7. Kabob Afghan & Persian Cuisine, Sunnyvale

                              1. re: katya

                                I wanna testify for Pamir. But I also have to admit near total ignorance of Afghani cuisine.

                                I do not recommend the food court slop they feature in their hot table buckets. Nothing wrong with that, per se. It is what it is. But I have found that ordering from their menu (or off the menu, go ahdead and challenge them) yields much better food. Check out their chicken biryani, for instance. Generous servings, and in the case of the biryani, be prepared for some spice -- which I really appreciate.

                                Pamir Afghan Cuisine
                                5800 Shellmound Way, Emeryville, CA 94608

                                1. re: BernalKC

                                  On Yelp I still gave my last ranked restaurant, Kabob Afghan & Persian Cuisine three stars (though it was mostly because the Persian food was okay - the Afghan kadoo was a disaster).

                                  I know I ranked Pamir second to last, but it's really a pretty good option for a food court.

                                2. re: katya

                                  De Afghanan has an SF branch on Polk St, and another in berserkley on Univ. Ave (they have a web site for the specifics, and their menus). I think the selection in the northern outposts might be simplified--they both qualify as 'hole in wall'. We had a very tasty meal at the Polk St. location; good flavours, nice portions and reasonable prices.

                                  1. re: moto

                                    What did you have at the Polk St. location? I think I'm going there tonight....I ate there once quite a while ago but don't remember exactly what I had.

                                    Dave MP

                                    1. re: Dave MP

                                      appetizers--sauteed pumpkin, sauteed eggplant. One main course--mantu. Plenty of the fresh, delicious flat bread, and I think the tea was complimentary. The quantity was just right for two of us to be comfortable with room for dessert. Feeling satisfied from eating moderately was probably partly from the yoghurt, which gives a richness similar to the heavy cream in continental food, without the heaviness.

                                      1. re: Dave MP

                                        Potato bolani, chicken kebab, mantu, borani kadoo.
                                        But definitely the bolani.

                                  2. re: Dave MP

                                    The De Afghanan in Berkeley is good, but the food's no better than Helmand Palace in SF.

                                    These days I'd go to Zaki over De Afghanan. Probably no better than Truly Med in SF, but it's a pleasant space.

                                    Indus Village's specials include dishes I haven't seen elsewhere.

                                    Zeni in San Jose is at the top of my South Bay to-try list.

                                    Indus Village Restaurant
                                    1920 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                    Zaki Kabob House
                                    1101 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                                3. DaveMP: Have you tried Amber? There is one in San Jose, Mountain View and the latest in San Francisco in the pedestrian walkway (Yerba Buena Lane) between Market and Mission, with the entrance being closest to Market & the corner of 4th Street). Your tastebuds are in for a treat. Go for the brunch (all-you-can-eat) on Sundays $19.95. No nasty things left on steam tables for hours. Beautiful fresh, beautifully spiced Indian food, with specialty vegetarian fare that you normally do not find elsewhere. The Korma curries are memorable, and you can taste things like apricot in the sauces which will educate your palate on how these dishes are supposed to taste. Most local Indian and Pakistani restaurants leave out ingredients like it was going out of style and think we won't notice the lack! Just imagine if you were serving omelets and left out the eggs! Next for taste, hearty portions and "bang for the buck" - try Chutneys on Jones near O'Farrell; Raja in the Haight and Indian Aroma on Polk. Punjab Kebab House is also good, their bread is from scratch, service is extremely slow, so unless you have no place to go... For the saag of your dreams - it's still either India Palace (Fillmore) or Shalimar.

                                  Afghan food - Helmand; Persian food - best in Bay Area: Alborz on Van Ness. Taiwanese - Taiwan Restaurant at 445 Clement, SF. (I was brought up in South China and I can recommend that one).


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: IlanaW

                                    There's an Amber in SF now.


                                    Amber India
                                    Mission and Fourth, San Francisco, CA

                                  2. the best!
                                    Kabul in San Carlos
                                    Shalizar in Belmont for Persian food

                                    both delicious

                                    1. >anywhere within a 70 mile radius of SF ... Other Middle Eastern<

                                      Don't forget the North Bay. Petaluma has the long-standing Aram's, owned by an Armenian family, and the new Real Doner (Turkish).

                                      Aram's Cafe
                                      131 Kentucky St, Petaluma, CA 94952

                                      Real Doner (Gyro)
                                      307 F St, Petaluma, CA 94952