>> Chili Chutney Afghan Cuisine | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday 29 September 2021

Chili Chutney Afghan Cuisine

Muirlands Blvd. facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The full interior is open. The restaurant is spacious and staff are wearing masks.

While an Albertsons-anchored shopping center in southern Orange County might not be the first place you would expect to find some of the best Afghan food in Southern California, one large dining room in Lake Forest is a place you are likely only to here Pashtun spoken by other customers. Ok, their children might be asking for the chicken tenders from the kid's menu in English, but otherwise it is a far cry from the manicured and gated condos lining the city's man-made lakes.

Pictures and paintings inspired by Afghanistan, including the famous 1985 National Geographic cover "Afghan Girl" photo fill the wall space. Other portraits are more down to Earth, another young girl carries a stack of fresh round loaves of bread. In the back of half of the big space is an unused buffet setup, unless you come on Friday or Saturday nights when the big buffet is up an running.

Ashak (leek dumplings)

The lunch buffet that existed before COVID has not returned yet, so for now early meals will have to "settle" by beginning with an amazing spread of ashak ($14.95, above). While vegetarians might initially be attracted to these boiled leek dumplings, do note that these are smothered in a tomato-based sauce that includes ground beef and lentils.

If you can eat meat, they are phenomenal. The dumplings and sauce are covered with a generous portion of yogurt and parsley, a combination of flavors that is intense and wonderful. Any meal here should include this starter, and if you happen to be alone do not let that stop you. Chili Chutney also serves mantu, more dumplings widely popular in Afghanistan but with roots in the countries of Central Asia to the north.

Beef chapli kabob with salad

Do not be silly though, and make sure to bring a group though so you can explore the grilled meats. Beef chapli kabobs ($13.95 with salad or rice, above) may have originated in Peshawar, just across the border in Pakistan, but they are wildly popular and unavoidable in the eastern parts of Afghanistan.

The name is derived from a Pashto word meaning flat, and the versions here are almost the size of frisbees and just as thin. On the streets in those countries you would generally get a piece of naan with the chapli kabob, so order that if you prefer, but it also pairs well with the salad or rice. A chapli burger seen on the menu promises to rival any pljeskavica you have ever enjoyed.

Qabili palau as served

Do not sleep on either of the red or green sauces that are brought to the table with orders, each is slightly spicy and full of fresh bite. During this meal they were both enjoyed with the ashak, chapli kabobs, and qabili palau ($19.95, above and below), a basmati dish that hides a full lamb shank underneath. The spices and marinade are subtle and tasty, but the lamb itself can shine through as well.

Raisins and carrots garnish the dish but are also an integral part of each bite, adding sweetness and crunch respectively. You can also ask for more yogurt, which used to be in squeeze bottles on most Afghan tables before the pandemic.

Qabili palau with lamb shank uncovered

After your meals here, try the sheer chai ($3.50, below), an Afghan black tea full of cardamom and served with boiled milk that you may have seen when visiting nearby Kashmir. Afghans will usually take this sweetened, but the tea is brewed without sugar so you can take it without as well. For something cold, try doogh, a yogurt concoction made with cucumber and mint and very refreshing.

There may not currently be a ton of Afghan people in Southern California, but at least the area already has strong representation of the cuisine from Northridge to Lake Forest in case more need to be welcomed soon.

Sheer chai

๐Ÿ“ 24301 Muirlands Blvd., Lake Forest, Orange County


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