Urban-dweller confession time: I have a bit of a Fremont problem. Wife out of town with the kids? I'll just scoot across the Dumbarton Bridge to Fremont. Need to buy some new clothes? Let's head to the Great Mall near, um, Fremont. Saturday afternoon with no plans? Fremont.
The real reason for my fascination lies not in the town's beauty or culture (sorry, Fremont.) It's the kabobs. The Afghan kabobs, to be exact.
Closet-sized De Afghanan Kabob House has been one of my secret hideouts ever since my longtime friend, Afghan cooking blogger Humaira Ghilzai, told me about it years ago.
To say that I was excited to learn that Da Afghanan Kabob House was opening a new branch on Geary Street, a mere 2 miles from my house, would be an understatement. But with the niece and nephews of the original owner in charge, would it be as good? I asked Humaira to join me to find out.
We began with potato bolani: slightly crispy, a tad greasy and totally addictive. Swabbing each rectangular slice with a bit of the accompanying tart, housemade yogurt, I plowed through the large order almost on my own while thinking aloud to Humaira how much this onion-laden flatbread reminded me in flavor of a thicker, denser potato knish I once devoured in Brighton Beach, N.Y.
Mantu, the ravioli-like dish of pasta stuffed with spiced ground beef and capped with yogurt and mint, made for another stellar starter, as did the little complementary bowls of shor nakhad, diced potatoes and garbanzo beans tossed with a shocking green cilantro sauce. This alone would make for a perfect lunch on a hot day.
The undisputed stars of the show, though, were the kabobs. Humaira considers a kabob's tenderness to be the main indicator of whether the kitchen is in good hands, and the meats here passed with flying colors.
I rarely get turned on by poultry, but at this spot, the char-broiled, orange-hued hunks of chicken breast were impossibly juicy, the result of an overnight marinade.
Equally luscious was the tekka kabob, tender wedges of tri-tip cooked to a perfect pink on the inside and aggressively seasoned. Co-owner Jay Fedaiy played coy when questioned about spices and marinades, revealing only that, "Over the years, some things have been added and some things have been subtracted." He at least admitted to using plenty of onions and garlic.
For the ultimate taste test, I drove one night to the Fremont location (yes, again) to sample my favorite, the chaplee kabob, patties of ground beef, egg and chopped onion with a dash of red pepper flakes. The following evening, I had the same item for dinner on Geary. Both versions would be the hamburger of my dreams if stuffed between a few slices of bolani (mental note: idea for food truck?), but, if pressed, I'd give the slight nod to the newcomer. Its kabobs were a bit moister with a more pronounced fiery kick.
A sense of deja vu comes with good reason. A few years ago, another relative also opened an outpost of De Afghanan Kabob House just around the corner on Polk Street that quickly shuttered. Here's to a more successful run for this new incarnation. It's saving me some serious gas money.