With all the good Middle Eastern food around Houston, it seems unlikely that Afghan Village, a small Afghani restaurant in a Gulfton strip mall, could be a standout. The quiet dining room is mostly filled with families and regulars. Larger crowds occasionally appear for the lunch buffet, but for the most part, a unique calm pervades the restaurant. It’s the kind of place where, when the waitress asks, “How did you hear about us?” she seems genuinely curious. But if Afghan Village’s vibes cause any misgivings, the food will come as a pleasant surprise. Serving consistently good mainstays of Middle Eastern cooking, as well as a number of dishes unique to Afghani cuisine, Afghan Village is a hidden gem and a great addition to Houston’s portfolio of Middle Eastern restaurants.
The most noticeable difference between Afghan Village’s cuisine and other Middle Eastern restaurants is the Kashmiri influence. Fans of Indian specialties like aloo paratha will appreciate Afghan Village’s bolani, a flatbread “turnover” filled with leeks, potatoes, onions and herbs. Other Indian influences come through in the multiple dishes served with palak, a spiced blend of wilted spinach that looks unappealing but makes a great accompaniment for the rice and flatbread that many dishes come with. The complimentary flatbread also comes with bouranee baunjan, a smoky and tangy mix of eggplant, tomato and yogurt. The small selection of appetizers is consistent and on par with other Middle Eastern restaurants, but Afghani Village’s biggest draw is its entrees.
The majority of the entrees are kebabs served with a heaping plate of sweet long-grain rice with raisins and candied peppers. Nearly all the kebabs on the menu are cooked perfectly, trapping in the moisture of the meat to avoid the dry chewy texture that sometimes results from their cooking method. The chicken and shinwary lamb kebabs are especially flavorful. The chicken is basted in an orange tomato-based sauce similar to Indian tandoori chicken. The shinwary lamb chops are marinated in a blend of peppercorns, spices and vinegar and crusted in more pepper before broiling. The pepper crust gives them a straightforward but satisfying flavor and locks in the moisture that makes Afghan Village’s meats so tender. Aside from the kebabs, Afghan Village serves a few specials specific to Afghani cuisine, the best of which is the mantoo. The dish is comprised of onion-and-beef dumplings tossed with housemade yogurt, topped with a chickpea-and-meat sauce and sprinkled with dried mint. The dish is a barrage of tastes but the flavors never clash; the tangy dumplings compliment their spicy beef filling, the mint adds an herb flavor to the yogurt and the chickpeas add an earthy flavor to the meat sauce. The one exception to the entrees’ success is the gosfand lamb kebab. While its flavor is not particularly bad, it is under-seasoned. The dish relies too heavily on the lamb’s flavor, leaving it bland and dried out compared to the other kebab meats.
Occasionally, homemade baklava and Afghani green tea can be ordered after the meal, but both depend on availability. Overall, Afghan Village is a quaint and satisfying alternative to more bustling Middle Eastern restaurants like Istanbul Grill and Aladdin. The food’s quality and price are fairly similar to competitors, but the delicious kebabs and unique Afghani dishes endear it to patrons as an understated and overlooked gem of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Address: 6413 Hillcroft St. 77018
Price range: $$
Shinwary Kebab (Broiled lamb ribs crusted with pepper): $13
Mantoo (Ground beef dumpling with yogurt and mint sauce): $10