It was a little disconcerting to arrive at an Afghan restaurant and find a Morigi’s Pizza sign out front. I entered and Chopan Kebab House proprietor Jawed Qayeum asked whether I wanted the Afghan or Italian menus. What was going on? Jawed explained that Morigi’s was open for 52 years and built a loyal following, so in addition to offering the cuisine of their homeland, he and his wife decided to continue cooking Joe Morigi’s dishes, using his recipes. The restaurant has been open for a year, following the success of the family’s sister establishment in Vancouver. They named Chopan Kebab House in honor of a “chopan,” an Afghan shepherd.
Jawed runs the front of the house at Chopan Kebab House and his wife Naseema is the chef. Their daughter Mena also lent a hand and was happy to tell us about her recent two-month trip to Kabul, an experience that sounded eye opening.
My friend acted under his assumption that you can determine the quality of a restaurant based on its soups, ordering the Soup of the Day ($3.95).
Entrees entitled us each to a crisp iceberg salad with Italian vinaigrette. Slivers of cucumber, sliced tomatoes, garbanzo beans and sliced black olives rounded out the plate. It was a good salad, but when the meat started arriving, we quickly pushed it aside.
Jawed informed us that Pakistanis and Indians cook their meats with a tandoor, but Afghans grill them.
After peeling back the naan, we discovered one skewer each of chicken, shami (ground beef) and tekka (shish) kebab. Since the menu features a shepherd, it was imperative that we sample his flock. As a result, we asked Jawed to substitute lamb for chicken. Jawed was feeling generous and decided to include both animals. The ground beef and orange-hued chicken chunks were tender and juicy, but the on-the-bone lamb and tekka kebabs were overcooked.
Kebabs came with mint-flecked chutney. We judiciously spooned the spicy chutney on meats and bread.
The pilaf was served with the side of the day, which turned out to be a bowl of sumptuous spinach, topped with a cut of red bell pepper and containing kick by including red chile skins.
With only two other Afghan restaurants in L.A. County, there must not be much local demand for Afghan cuisine. Or there may not be enough chefs to prepare it well. Either way, that’s a shame, since Afghan food an interesting mix of Pakistani and Iranian cuisine, made more appealing by Naseema’s skill in the kitchen.