Secure a real estate loan or service your computer after visiting Al-Watan.
Al-Watan‘s decor barely registers, with mirrored walls and tile floors. Thankfully, chef-owner Mohammed Mumtaz’s Indo-Pak cooking left a stronger impression. The restaurant opened in the nondescript LAX-adjacent hamlet of Hawthorne in 1984. Mr. Mumtaz purchased the restaurant, which roughly translates as “Your Homeland,” in 1989. It’s remained a family-run operation ever since, and now there’s even an adjacent halal butcher shop/grocery store.
On Saturday nights, Al-Watan hosts large parties, mainly families. While waiting for a table, we drank a vivid mango lassi ($2) and the milk-tea mix called Al-Watan Tea ($1).
Each meal comes with an iceberg lettuce and cucumber salad, served with spicy chile-flecked mint dressing.
The sizzling Mix Tandoori ($11.99) platter featured a mountain of tandoor beef and chicken served on a bed of oily, caramelized onions. It’s hard to imagine a better plate of food. The spice-crusted bird and cow meat included big hunks of smoky Chicken Tikka, orange from the tandoor, plus succulent, casing-free minced beef sausages called Seekh Kabab, and beyond-tender marinated beef hacks known as Beef Boti Kabob. The meats that touched the platter formed phenomenal spice crusts, and meats atop the pile were nearly as good.
We already ordered what must have been two pounds of tandoor meats, but no Pakistani meal is complete without a good lamb dish. Lamb Dal ($6.99) featured tender lamb chunks cooked with chile pepper-studded spiced lentils. Great dish.
Bhindi ($5.99) involved okra cooked with sliced jalapeños in an oily brew of spices and onion. This was an intense dish, yet the okra nubs somehow managed to remain crisp. Okra is often slimy, since it’s notoriously difficult to cook.
Sesame naan was a good, pull-apart vessel for Al-Watan’s saucy, spicy cuisine.
We split two desserts that went well together. Gajer Ka Halwa ($3) featured ground carrots and milk cooked together, served hot. It almost tasted like the filling for a good sweet potato pie, minus the crust; Kheer ($2) was an eight-ounce cup of rice pudding, served cool. It was a little soupy, but the flavor was good. Was that cardamom I tasted?
Going in, I knew Al-Watan had a good reputation for tandoor dishes, and the tandoor meats were indeed sensational. Happily, the rest of the meal was nearly as good, with flavor that built with each bite and sip, starting with my excellent mango lassi and carrying all the way through lamb and vegetable dishes to dessert. Plus, since I was sitting next to one of the TVs, I was able to catch up on my Indian soap operas. Not bad. Not bad at all.