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Darbar Restaurant - Pakistani in Brighton

Not much in the way of true Pakistani in the GBA, so I looked forward with great anticipation to taking Darbar out for a test-drive today. The menu is a whats what of Sindhi-Punjabi fare, the kind of cooking I grew up with and now only mostly eat at home or at restaurants in major metro Pakistani communities (Toronto, Chicago, etc). A cast of kebabs - chapli, bihari, shami (aka Sham-Wow), karahi gosht, keema, korma, jalfrezi, kaleji, biryani, linguine, martini, bikini ! Kay. But also classic special occasion kind of dishes, like nehari, haleem, and paya, which at even the best of restaurants are not always on daily offer.

My car smelled like a hot tandoor the whole ride home, the smells of yeasty roasty toasty ghee-brushed bread had me blowing thru reds to get home in time. While it was quite tasty, it was slightly denser than my preference, lacking that light airy charred 'neapolitan' quality. The chapati, on the other hand, was excellent. Thin, wheaty, pliable and crispy in all the right places.

There is a place for oil in certain Pakistani dishes. Like bone marrow beef shank stew, aka nehari. This is as rich a dish as they come, and it still baffles me as to why my peoples eat it for brekkie, but god bless 'em they do. I understand you may not want that pool of oil in many of your dishes, but you want it here. Stir it right up, nice and thick. It is a very fine rendition, if a tad tamer than my mamas, but who's counting (other than me and ma). Nice big hunks of tender shin meat, garam-masala laced marrow gravy. It's what's for breakfast, apparently.

I had no plans for haleem, but a sample was brought out to me, and darnit if this isn't one of the better restaurant versions I've had around. Much more aggressively spiced (and requested as such), thick & meaty, and they must just have vats of rich bone gravy around because this was amped up with it no doubt.

Tis the day for zombies, so an order of brainz seemed like the obvious thing to do. What was amusing, on this particular day, was the chef informing they were fresh out of brains, but would be right back with another one. Now maybe I should be asking where they source their brains, but so far I'm (relatively) asymptomatic. And the brainz (maghaz masala) were delicious. Creamy, sweet, soft scrambled and spicy. Devoured with chapati.

Bones and brains, Happy Halloween !

Darbar Restaurant
130 North Beacon St
Brighton, MA 02135

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  1. Nice. Who knew there were any restos on that somewhat industrial strech of N. Beacon...

    1. mmm brains

      a group of us had lunch at darbar on saturday. we ordered the chinioti kunna gosht, haleem, sarson ka saag, and magaz masala. the clear favorite of the meal was the magaz masala. i could have eaten the whole dish myself. it was rich, creamy, and slightly spicy. delicious over hot basmati rice or used as a dip for the freshly baked naan. i eagerly look to return and try more dishes

      5 Replies
      1. re: galangatron

        Actually they were out of the first dish, we subbed karahi gosht (goat w/tomato, onion, garlic, spices), which was excellent. (They were also out of goat chops and kadhi pakora.) I couldn't have eaten all the brains myself, they were rich! (I did lick the spoon.) As to the squick factor, they are finely chopped and not recognizable. We also especially liked the flaky naan and onion kulcha. Overall a really good meal, and the room is quite nice. Affable owner eager to explain, and a sweet preteen waitress filling in. They had a small buffet which we forgot to ask about: meat, chicken, potatoes, chickpeas, bread; the meats were reassuringly bone-in, as was the goat dish we ordered. Note: if you want goat ask, the menu sometimes says lamb (not mutton) for goat; and rice or bread is a la carte.

        1. re: Aromatherapy

          So happy you guys enjoyed your visit too, and I wish I would've run into y'all ! But now I know who depleted them of their brains. =) Too bad the kunna gosht was not available, as it is essentially a mutton nehari, and quite tasty. How'd they do with the saag ? I had plans to order it until getting talked into the haleem.

          To yumyum's question below - the 'sauce' that the brains are cooked in is a pretty classic base for many Pakistani dishes. Ginger, garlic, onions, red chile powder, turmeric, tomatoes, cooked until the onions have more or less dissolved and tomatoes have broken down and all the spices have been incorporated. It's a little more restrained than usual to match the sweet & creamy (almost avocado-like) flavour of the brainz.

          To Luther's good point on buffets below - while I have not had the buffet at Darbar, it's pretty much always a good idea to order off the menu, anywhere. I don't remember the last time I ate a buffet at *any* restaurant. It pains me to see folks almost exclusively eat buffet food at desi restaurants, though I have noticed some recent glowing experiences at places like Kebab Factory, for example. It's too easy to pass off tired old curries in this kind of cooking - it all looks the same, BROWN. Granted, there are certain restaurants where, regardless of where it comes from, the buffet table or the pot out back in the kitchen, it's going to be the same. And I'm sure there are restaurants that are keeping the buffet daisy-fresh every minute of the lunch-crush. And of course, nobody is making scratch nehari and haleem to order. But caveats aside, judging a restaurant on its buffet alone, is a poor measure IMO. I realize nobody said this in this thread, and I'm ranting here off on my own, and that's probably because I now have mad-cow disease, but just sayin kay ?

          The Kebab Factory
          414 Washington St, Somerville, MA 02143

          1. re: Nab

            Good to know what the kunna is--we ordered it mainly because it was the first thing on the specials list and we couldn't figure out what it was! Our waitress wasn't up to it, poor kid. The saag (mustard greens) was fine, mellow mustardy bite. Have you been to Madina Market lately--I was wondering how they were doing, it's been a while.

            1. re: Aromatherapy

              Hey AT -

              I've been to Madina Market exactly three times in the past year, and it's been up & down. I still like those guys and will certainly return, but it hasn't quite lived up to memories of when we first went there several years ago. We should check it out again. I also have not been to Grain & Salt yet either, but have almost unanimously heard the negative on it.

        2. re: galangatron

          Unexpectedly, brains were my favorite too, thanks to Galangatron's gentle pushing to order them. Boy, were they rich. Also liked the spicy goat.

        3. I noticed this place driving back from Watertown a few months ago, and wondered why it had so few reviews anywhere. Glad to hear it's worth a trip!


          1. This sounds positively ghoulish.

            For those of us who've not tried brains, can you describe this dish? I know it's a textural thing really, but what is the flavor of the sauce like?

            The nihari sounds right up my alley! That oily slick on top is impressive ...

            1. Depends on the prep, but brains most often reminds me of veal sweetbreads in texture, though I think the flavor is milder.


              1 Reply
              1. re: MC Slim JB

                I don't know how they're made at Darbar, but I grew up eating them. They were like runny scrambled eggs, but with a bit more texture and heft. Veal sweetbreads sounds about right (but not overcooked, toughened sweetbreads).

              2. I'll just add that I agree with your assessment, and that I'd recommend avoiding the buffet (cold in temperature, and no haleem!)

                1. I passed this place the other night and was wondering. I'll try it this soon How would you compare it to the Pakistani place on Cambridge street (Allston)? Thanks for the report.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: gourmaniac

                    I assume you mean Grain and Salt. The only dish I can clearly remember having at both places is paya (foot stew). The version at G&S is awful- it was like these 0.5" slices made by cutting the foot with a butcher's saw, cooked in a very thin pale liquid but not long enough to melt all the collagen so it was chewy. Darbar's version is very good, with lots of little knuckly joints containing fall-apart-tender gelatinous material. There's also miscellaneous parts in there, like chunks of testicle.

                    I think I also remember having the haleem at G&S, and it was not very good at all (thin, equally undercooked).

                    Grain and Salt
                    431 Cambridge St, Allston, MA 02134

                    1. re: Luther

                      Thanks Luther, but i meant Madina Market (oops wrong street) and Nab answered this above.

                      1. re: gourmaniac

                        I've been to MM recently and would recommend it. The food ordering experience there is probably the weirdest you'll even encounter- there's nobody in the dining room, you get someone to come out from the kitchen, and it's always like they're shocked you want to order food. But the food is delicious, and comes out fast. Good haleem and dal fry. Also good kebabs (take out). The only negatives are 1. not a pleasant room to eat in and 2. the food is obviously seasoned using a large dose of prepackaged spice mixes. Very strong salty and unsubtle flavors... but good comfort food.

                        1. re: Luther

                          Heh. Yeah, that reminds of one of my last stops there. I walked in, on the little "market" side of the shop, and somebody at the end of the hallway saw me and acknowledged my presence. I crossed over to the restaurant side and expectedly waited for him (or somebody) to meet me over there. Nothin. I crane my head this way and that, walk back to the other side, tell him I'm hungry, he nods, I walk back over. Nothin. Nobody. Tumbleweed. So I walk back behind the steam table and start checking out the goods, and then finally somebody emerges from the kitchen, catches me red-handed with the lid in my hand, I raise my eyebrows sheepishly, and he simply nods and says (in tongue), "It's good." Which it probably was that day. Luther has it right - kebabs are all generally quite good, but some of the other dishes sometimes suffer from a stale packet of Shan masala, or far too much of it (that'll suck every last bit of hydration from your bones). But I like these guys and they treat me like a son when I go there. And the food is very good when it's on.

                          Gourmaniac, you should definitely check it out. Don't be afraid to ask them questions - they're a little gruff, but nice guys. Typical interaction goes like this:

                          Me: How's the daal today ?
                          Dude: It's good.
                          Me: But is it a fresh batch ?
                          Dude: <scowling, looks insulted, like I offended his mother> Of course it's fresh !
                          Me: Yeah, but c'mon, is it leftover from lunch fresh, or did you just make it ?
                          Dude: <smiling> Get the saag, it's delicious today.

                            1. re: Nab

                              Tried the Haleem at Darbar this weekend and it was excellent as advertised. Complex spicing including slivered ginger, heat with depth, meaty in a good way such that a little goes a long way. Rice and naan both were fine complements. It seems family run and I chatted with a number of very nice family members while I waited for take out. They've been open for 4 1/2 months and could use the business. The lunch buffet ($12.99) looked good and Fri-Sun, they have the buffet for dinner (including haleem last saturday). Nice chowfind.

                              1. re: gourmaniac

                                Glad you liked it, gourmaniac !

                                For others ordering the haleem, or nehari for that matter, be sure to ask them to bring the fixins & mixins (slivered ginger, cilantro, chiles, limes etc) on the side. I've been told they don't always bring them out by default, but for me it's as essential as the plate of mixins for a bowl of pho. It's just not complete without it.

                    2. Glad to hear good things about this restaurant that I can walk to. Looks like I'll need to check it out soon!

                      1. I've been under the weather and had been promised that haleem and nehari have magical healing properties so I called in an order to Darbar today and hightailed over there.

                        Not much to add to Nab's descriptions, except this is the best haleem I've ever had (sample size = 2) and it was delivered SPICY as requested. The nehari is a little bit challenging, as its pretty much a bowl of juicy oily goo with fork tender meat, but I like oil and marrow and the flavors of the goo are great. A little dab will do ya, a couple of spoonfuls about all I could do, but it's very comforting thinking there is a container of healing elixir in the fridge. I will let you know if the magical properties are true.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: yumyum

                          I still haven't been able to get the haleem... first time we ended up trying the buffet (awful) and second time they were still in the middle of cooking it. Items off the menu are fantastic.

                          1. re: Luther

                            Keep trying and you shall be rewarded! In fact, this could be psychosomatic, but I'm feeling much better already.

                            1. re: Luther

                              The Haleem is excellent when ordered a la carte. the owner told me it was available on the sat night buffet, which would be a bargain. Luther, what was bad about the buffet?

                              1. re: gourmaniac

                                The primary problem was that even a couple hours into the buffet, the food was still barely above room temperature. We got a complementary "naan" but it seemed to be overcooked and underproofed, like something extra tough and chewy. The naan we ordered off the menu a separate time was very good. The best buffet dish was a very rich and tender paya (including some unexpected testicles). There was also a chole and some plainish rice. The remaining 2-3 items were variations on tough, oily chicken chunks with too much sulfur flavor and not enough other flavor. Kashmiri tea is offered but costs extra.

                                In contrast, ordering off the menu (for only a few dollars more per person) got us beautiful fresh fluffy naan, chicken tikka bursting with juicy flavor and a charred exterior, a very moist and flavorful sikh kebab, and a solid but perhaps overly mild nihari. "Plain rice" comes oily and nicely seasoned. After informing us that the haleem would take several more hours to cook, the head guy (dressed in chef's whites this time, though he isn't always) offered us a goat dish (forgot the name) with the same flavors. It was delicious, and I suspect made by starting with the stock/stew used for haleem and cooking it with braised goat instead of beef and wheat.

                                1. re: Luther

                                  Thanks. I generally prefer off the menu too, but when dining alone a good buffet can offer the variety a lower cost and total food uptake. This one sounds like a miss and will instead make my way through the menu one dish at a time.

                          2. Just checked out Darbar today, its for sure a household standard authentic Pakistani restaurant.

                            Today I got Haleem, Chicken Karahi, Chicken Achar, Matar Paneer, Meat Samosa, Chapli Kabab and kheer and Mango Lassi.

                            Chapli kabab and Kheer - not that good.

                            The rest was good :) including naan and roti.

                            So far I havent found comparable options in/near boston.
                            Kabab & Tandoor is really not bad but haleem and other food is hyderabadi style.
                            Grain & Salt - not impressed.

                            I will go back to this place to try the nihari for sure.

                            Kabab & Tandoor
                            699 Main St, Waltham, MA

                            1. Checked out the weekend buffet yesterday. We had intended to order off the menu but the chef asked us to have a look at the buffet and we did. It looked good and fresh and indeed it was.

                              They bring complementary naan and puri to the table while you get your plates full. Yesterday there was chicken curry, a ground or diced chicken dish, haleem, paya, chickpeas, cauliflower and excellent rice. Everything was hot and good, with the haleem being my favorite. Who doesn't like goatmeal? Little dishes of garnishes on the side like ginger matchsticks and chilis.

                              Kashmiri chai at the end was very good, with a slight fennel taste and ground pistachios to mix in the cup.

                              The place was packed out with a big party, I have no idea if every weekend is this busy. Chef and his brother Bluetooth were working the room, and we had a few odd conversations -- and got nagged for not eating the naan quickly enough. (Of course he was right, should have been eaten piping hot, but still.)

                              All in all, I'd recommend the weekend buffet if you want to sample a bunch of dishes at Darbar for $12.99.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: yumyum

                                Especially curious to know if they do halwa puri brekkies !

                                1. re: Nab

                                  I was there in December (short report below) and the owner said they did (on weekends).

                                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                                    They often have halwa in the weekend buffet... I don't know enough to say what kind it is... "plain"

                                    1. re: Luther

                                      I figured they musta had it, seemed kinda odd to offer unlimited puris and all the other pieces of the pie and then just leave out the halwa. assuming it was sooji (semolina) halwa ... when you say 'plain', do you mean it was not fluorescent orange ? ;)

                                      1. re: Nab

                                        Yeah, semolina halwa, kind of a yellowish off-white color. Not the bright orange kind.

                                2. re: yumyum

                                  Thanks yumyum. I've been meaning to try this based on the owner's suggestion. I assume this was lunch. What time did you go? I find timing is everything for Indian buffet.

                                  1. re: gourmaniac

                                    I was there late -- 2pm. Buffet was still going strong at 3:30 when we left. I usually don't like buffets but this one was v. good. I hope you try it.

                                      1. re: yumyum

                                        Thanks for the rec on the weekend buffet. At around 1 pm (a Sunday) they had apparently just set up. Food was quite good, esp. the paya, a very bony goat stew, and haleem, and a good okra masala too. Just a couple of customers there but more were arriving as I was leaving, maybe it's a later crowd.

                                  2. I had two meals at Darbar in December. I'd like to eat more of their food before commenting in detail, but so far I've had the nihari, paaya, magaz masala, some fried fish, daal, sarson ka saag, plain rice (as observed above, it's far from pain), seekh kebab (disappointingly chicken, not goat or lamb), and several breads. The food is on the whole quite good. Far more importantly, Darbar offers traditional Pakistani (and Muslim-Indian) food that's different from the usual fare at the dozens of mediocre Indo-Pak restaurants that litter the Greater Boston culinary landscape, each a copy of the next. For that alone it deserves hound-ish devotion and support. I urge striper to try it and RAVE about it. I urge the rest of you to do the same.

                                    The restaurant suffers a little from quality issues, probably having to do with low turnover of some dishes. It's a good idea to ask firmly when various slow-cooked meat dishes were made.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: FoodDabbler

                                      That's a little scary, don't you think, having to ask when something was cooked? What if you happen to forget to ask? Seriously, that's a real concern.

                                      1. re: scotty27

                                        I wasn't trying to imply that the food was off, just that it might not be at its peak. It's a problem with places that have unusual dishes and low initial turnover. They have to be able to absorb big losses at the start from unsold food and they might not have deep enough pockets. One possible solution would be for such places to have an associated takeout counter with frozen foods. Slow-cooked, sauced meat dishes, dal, etc., often freeze well, and the restaurant can pack leftovers and freeze them rather than trying to sell them in past-prime condition.

                                        There'd still be the problem with things such as milk sweets, though, that have a short life and no redemption in the afterlife of the freezer.

                                    2. nab, i don't know how you got past me before, but you are one GOOD writer! being funny is a great gift, but heck, you're articulate too.Looks like darbar is a next try for us, thnx to you.


                                      have you tried the zarda? i'm alw interested in unusual desserts, particularly Indian, bec i adore cardamom.i was wondering what it was and found this. yum!:


                                      Darbar Restaurant
                                      130 N Beacon St, Boston, MA 02135

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. Conclusions from more visits: everything's a little overpriced considering the awful (authentic) service, buffet is cold in temperature and not worth it. Recommendations other than what's already been said: GET THE SAAG. It is fantastic.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Luther

                                          Why "awful (authentic)"? What are you comparing it to? I agree that service in Indo-Pak-Bangladeshi restaurants in the U.S. is by and large terrible, but that's hardly a benchmark of authenticity. Service in restaurants in India is generally brisk at downscale places, and fawning and over-solicitous at upscale ones. At neither end is it terrible.

                                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                                            I'd also observe that service at the restaurants in the Boston area used to be famously terrible -- like, so surly and indifferent that it was a running joke in my set -- but that started changing some years ago.

                                            I find service in most Indian / Pakistani / Bangladeshi restaurants to be much more efficient, solicitous and friendly these days, presumably driven by competition in a market with many more outlets and regional specializations than were once available.

                                            I also wonder whether a shift in compensation practices might be involved. I understand that many such places frequently used to engage in illegal tip withholding from waitstaff, and perhaps this has changed.


                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              Yes, service has improved at these places, but it can still be almost comically bad. Consider the number of indifferent young men who stand around the periphery of places such as Cafe of India, ignoring every attempt to catch their attention to get water, the check, etc. Then, when you are in deep conversation and don't want to be disturbed three or four of them will pop up in a row to ask how everything is. As with carrying umbrellas and rain, the trick obviously is to fake deep conversation when you want the check.

                                              Cafe of India
                                              52 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                            2. re: FoodDabbler

                                              Sorry, by "authentic" I mean "consistent with other desi restaurants in the area that serve traditional food"

                                          2. tried this place today 5pm.That haleem was the least attractive entree i have ever been served, but it was delicious! the brains were v good but too hot spicy for me. the brown basmati house rice was really excellent. the onion kulcha fine. the lamb stew, bone-in, was good tomato and spice flavor but the meat had me feeling like charlie chaplin in that shoe-eating scene. mango lassi was not as robustly and brightly flavored as others. yoghurt was the thickest/richest/creamiest i have ever had. ever. pakoras were fine. Nice people but we really did not appreciate the tv and the open kitchen door conversation and clanging and continual cell phone use by chef and server/wife? i was really excited to try the sweet rice dessert dishes (haven't seen them offered before) but they weren't in stock.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              unfortunately they never seem to have any of the desserts aside from kheer, gulab jamun, and rasmali

                                            2. Hit the buffet for lunch today. WOW. Truly awesome chow.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: StriperGuy

                                                Nice, I was there watching the match as well. Agree the Buffet was very good!

                                                1. re: Matt H

                                                  I got there just after the match ended and the place was empty.

                                                2. re: StriperGuy

                                                  i completely forgot to mention this in my review>>next time you go, stripes, ya gotta get a dish of their yoghurt. sour cream like sophia's.

                                                3. Darbar was recommended to me by a Pakistani friend as being authentic and delicious. I still have yet to go but it's encouraging to see so many of you have chowed down (pun intended) at Darbar and liked it!


                                                  1. Just got to try this place. As we walk in a gentleman in a chef's jacket says "only two of you". We were not aware that it was Entourage only place? As the server is walking away from our table with the orders, the guys yells across and asks what we ordered? heh? We got kabab, haleem, paya( goat hooves curry) and gurda (liver dish) with couple of naan. He comes to us and says " No naan. I make you chapati." my DC and I are puzzled and tell no we want naan. Then he replies with, " okay i make one naan and one chapati". We ended up agreeing with him bc we got a lil scared.
                                                    The food arrives and another gentleman is at our table telling us we are about to have the best food in the world. hmmm do i get to taste it before you decide that for me? Throughout dinner both men kept yelling across the room asking us "Goood Right?"
                                                    Must admit the food was really good favorite was the liver. After reading all the tread I'm surprised to say that our least favorite was the haleem.
                                                    The chef comes to our table again, " you lucky i make this liver today but I dont make it all the time" heh!? did we just not order from a menu that was laminated? Who knows I guess we must have been very special bc when we asked for the remainder of the food to go he brought a to go container to the table and packed it and also packed my DC naan with his bare hands which was also shuffling the toothpick in his mouth from one corner to the other. i dont think my DC will be having the leftover naan nomatter how good it was. ehhh
                                                    All in all food was good but bizarre experience.
                                                    As we are getting ready to leave this Asian kid walks in, "Only One?" I guess you better come with tons of friends here... :) also we could hear the chef talking to him, "I make you chapati" ahhh poor kid..

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Rmoon

                                                      This is a hilariously accurate account of the place and how much of a nutter the chef there can be. He enjoys some playful ribbing but I can see how he might be hard to interpret and just come across as plain bizarro. It's really comical Seinfeld kinda stuff. Part of the charm.