Al-Noor provides a warm glow for diners from their strip mall setting.
Syed Hasan Zaidi opened Al-Noor in 1998 in the Aero Park Center strip-mall near the 405 freeway, naming his Karachi-style Pakistani restaurant after the Arabic term “light from the God.” He derived all of his recipes by watching his mother cook growing up. Assistant Chef Armando Garcia has helped to channel Zaidi’s vision since 1999.
Canary yellow walls host informative posters from Pakistani’s four provinces, including The Punjab and Sindh. Decorative Sindhi fabrics cover walls and tables. Decorative needlework depicts peacocks and flowers.
We started by splitting two orders of samosas ($2 each), each fried pyramid filled with spiced potatoes. They were lighter than normal, and went great with the homemade tamarind and mint chutneys. Pakoras ($2) – vegetable fritters – were similarly soft and tender. I’m guessing the primary vegetable was zucchini.
A metal caddy held containers of mint chutney and tamarind chutney that we spooned on fried starters.
We found spicy beef hoof intriguing, but opted for shami kebab ($4.99), lentil and ground beef patties.
Lamb Korma was terrific ($6.99), featuring cubed lamb cooked in a spicy onion sauce.
We somehow ended up with three vegetarian dishes, including Nauratan Qorma ($5.99), mixed vegetables in a curry sauce with cashews, raisins, onions and spicy tomatoes.
Aaloo Qeema ($6.99) was an excellent ground beef dish cooked with potatoes and spices.
Chicken Jal Farezi ($6.99) featured diced chicken and tomatoes “lightly spiced” with fresh mixed vegetables.
Bhindi Masala ($5.99) showcased sliced okra cooked in a tomato-based herb sauce.
Baigan Bharta ($5.99) involved chunky mashed eggplant cooked with spices and herbs. The eggplant could have been more tender.
Goat Biryani ($7.99) was a heaping plate of chile-soaked basmati rice strewn with goat meat chunks. Unfortunately, this goat was a bony beast, but the flavor was undeniable.
With our entrees, we ordered a plate of steamed saffron rice ($1.99) to quell the inevitable fire.
I had to ask twice for my mango shake ($2.50), and it was worth the effort. Mango pulp with milk is delicious.
As Adam was finishing ordering, I said, “What about bread?” He took a look at the list, and said, “One of each,” which got a laugh from our table. He said, “Okay, everything but plain naan.” That left butter, garlic, onion and chile naan, plus paratha.
When our baskets arrived, we only received onion and garlic naans, which were delicious, crispy without being dry. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time we didn’t receive what we ordered.
For dessert, we split two doses of almond and cardamom kulfi ($2 each), silky ice cream sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
Gajar Halwa ($2 each) combined spice-soaked chopped carrots flecked with sweet cheese. Served warm, this dessert was delicious.
Since there were eight of us, there were certainly dishes I wouldn’t have ordered had I been eating on my own, but the food was still distinctive and almost he-board delicious. The service was shaky at best, but given the ridiculously low prices, there wasn’t much cause to complain.