Cafe Kabul

Cuisine: Afghan

2831 Olentangy River Road
Mon-Thurs, 11am – 10pm, Fri-Sat, 11am – 10:30pm, Sun, 12pm – 10pm

Click here to map it!

Located in a light, bright space at the southern end of the strip known as ‘University City Center’, Cafe Kabul is, to the best of our knowledge, the first and only Afghan restaurant in Columbus. Open only for a few weeks as of this writing, at lunchtime it was already drawing a decent number of students and office workers from the surrounding area. It is a casual, order-at-the-counter setup, and customers are given a number to be called when their food is ready.

We started with one of the side dishes – buranee bonjon – a bed of sauteed slices of eggplant topped with homemade yogurt, tomato sauce and served with Afghan bread. The yogurt (which can also be ordered separately) was very tangy and the tomato added a little, but not too much sweetness. Pile a bit of each on some bread, and you’ll have a taste of what made this one of our group’s favorite dishes.  The bread, which I think was obi non, is thicker than pita bread and useful for scooping up yogurt and hummus.

We also tried two of the other vegetable side dishes – sabsi (pureed spinach cooked with onions and garlic) and the sauteed okra with tomatoes and onions. Both were simple dishes that were (surprisingly) mildly seasoned, seemingly with the intent of letting the fresh flavors of the vegetables shine through.  It works, in an ‘if you like spinach, you’ll like sabsi‘ manner of thinking.

The majority of the mains are dishes are familiar from Middle Eastern or Indian cuisines: seekh kebab, tandoor chicken, chicken kabob and tikka kabob. We ordered one chicken seekh kebab – spiced ground chicken formed around a skewer and grilled – with the idea of comparing it to other seekh kebabs found around town.  While it seemed a reasonable effort, others in town do it better.

The more interesting mains were kabuli pallow and peshawari chaplee kabob. The peshawari chaplee kabob (more commonly chapli) consisted of three meat patties made of ground beef mixed with freshly ground spices and grilled to well-done.  The intriguingly complex flavors of this dish were roundly appreciated, though the meat was a bit on the dry side for our tastes. As with most of the main dishes, it can be served either with rice and salad or with bread and salad. The included mint chutney was a worthy accompaniment.

The kabuli pallow (palao) is a variation on one of Afghanistan’s national dishes – Afghan style rice topped with chunks of lamb, spiced sauteed carrot strips and raisins. This dish was popular – their lamb was a thing of beauty – but at $9.49, it struck us as though there wasn’t very much of it.

Although there are no vegetarian main dishes on the menu, vegetarians could find enough to eat from a selection of the sides and appetizers. Service was leisurely but acceptable.

Having done some research on Afghan cuisine, it seems that Cafe Kabul is merely scratching the surface of the range of dishes. It’s a great addition to the University City Center but may not worth a drive across town. I hope that Cafe Kabul will offer more variety as they get established and that we will see more Afghan restaurants opening in Columbus.


8 responses to “Cafe Kabul

  1. Nice to have our first Afghan restaurant, even if it isn’t as good as others in the US. The eggplant dish looks like a good enough reason for me to head there.

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  3. a group of eight loved the place
    spoke to the delightful owners
    the eggplant dish shone
    the pallow could have used
    the addition of herbs that are
    common to that part of
    Afghanistan, Kabul is an amazing
    city full of exotic but mild flavors
    and although the portions were large
    we all agreed that it was a bit boring.
    unfortunately the owners
    of Kabul have no idea how
    to keep a grilled chicken moist
    absolutely essential if they are
    to offer this.
    yes we would all go back
    we enjoyed the service and hopefully
    someone will have shared the tips about
    grilling which is not native to Kabul.

  4. Pilla0 should not be boring it should contain treasures cherries or dill pistachios, something that shows the wonderful ethnic diversity of Kabul. Any restaurant can serve a rice dish but to make it unique is what people will return to again and again.

    Cooked the same as chalow, but either meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rices are named after. Examples include:

    * Palao – The national dish, meat and stock added, topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, pistachios.
    * Yakhni Palao – meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice
    * Zamarod Palao – Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence ‘zamarod’ or emerald.
    * Qorma Palao – Qorm’eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process
    * Bore Palao – Qorm’eh Lawand added. Creates a yellow rice.
    * Bonjan-e-Roomi Palao – Qorm’eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added at baking process. Creates a red rice.
    * Serkah Palao – Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.
    * Shebet Palao – Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.
    * Narenj Palao – A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.
    * Maash Palao – A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and Bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.
    * Alou Balou Palao – Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.

  5. Honestly the problem is people are not very familiar with Afghan food so they come in expecting something extremley spicy and oily (Indian) or the traditional Arab dishes such as hummus and grapeleaves. Afghan food has its own unique flavor and taste, living in California I am really familiar with it and the food is known for its diversey combination of interesting flavors. Its probably best to play it safe in a place like Ohio, where people may not be that used to foreign cuisines, particularly Afghan so I dont blame them for keeping it simple. But the colors of the dishes in the pictures looked a little too safe, like they are worried of adding more just in case people’s taste buds are shocked lol.

  6. We ate here last weekend and like it quite a bit. The menu was small but sufficient for a plaza kinda place. Hopefully they will expand. The flavors were rich and stimulating. I have eaten before in Afgani places and always liked the flavors. We also talked with some local Afghanis in there who were quite enjoying their meals.
    Though the foods served here are not of top tier (like all the pulaos that user CROW has copied and pasted above) the owners have done a very good job of introducing some authentic flavors. The meats I tried were succulent. The vegetables (only as side dishes though) were also very good.
    I would recommend this place. You can find some good flavors and the experience will not hurt your wallet either.

  7. Tried the lunch buffet recently…it was mostly Indian-tasting…good hummus and sabsi, though. I enjoyed the texture/consistency of the obi non. Will go back soon to try some of the more unique entrees.

  8. I loved the buranee bonjon and would regularly come to order it with the side of that amazing bread. UNTIL I ordered it from the menu last year and it came to me, not with eggplant, but with par-cooked potato slices in place of eggplant. When I asked the owner, he told me eggplants were too expensive so they had to cut costs and replace it. Neither the menu picture or the name had changed and I thought that was very misleading.

    Honestly, I would rather they had the eggplant and just cut down the portion to half of the size instead of swapping out for something that tasted awful in comparison.The eggplant dish couldn’t be more expensive than the ingredients for their meat-based dishes, the logic didn’t really make much sense to me. I was so disappointed that they cut corners like that!

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