I had the most surreal experience of all my journeys to Perisan restaurants this week when I decided to try out Kabob House Halal in Santa Clara. As I understand it, the owners are from Iraq, and they serve food from there, Iran, and the Mediterranean. There are about eight tables inside the restaurant, as well as a large deli case filled with baklava (not sure if it’s house-made) and various cold appetizers.
Their menu doesn’t describe any of the dishes, and although I love me some koobideh and barg, I don’t know the difference between Mast-O-Khiar and Mast-O-Moosir, let alone my ass from a hole in the ground. We approached the teenage girl wearing a hijab behind the counter. She answered all our questions in perfect English, but very curtly like a bored teenager.
“What’s the Chicken Thai Kabab?”
“But what is it?”
“Is it served in a Thai preparation?”
“No. (she points to her thigh) Chicken Thai.”
Seriously, I can’t help it that the menu spells “thigh” “Thai”. I felt like I was in the classic “Who’s on First?” sketch.
We read in a review on the wall that lunch was offered all day. Koobideh (ground beef kabob) is listed under the lunch menu for $2.99 and the dinner menu for $8.99.
“What’s the difference between the lunch koobideh and the dinner koobideh?”
“There’s no difference?”
“They’re the same”
At this point I was really close to saying, “Really, there’s no difference between the dishes and you’re charging me $6 more just for the hell of it?” but I restrained myself. Noticing the picture of the dinner koobideh on the counter which came with rice and a tomato, I asked if rice and tomato didn’t come with the lunch version. That turned out to be correct.
So, deciding that we wanted to order a dinner portion of Boneless Chicken Breast Kabab ($9) and two skewers of Koobideh from the lunch menu we ordered. There was still a glitch.
“Do you want bread?” (she points to a picture of the really thin lavash I’ve had at various Middle Eastern restaurants that’s never very impressive).
“No, we’re fine.”
“Then, how are you going to eat it?!
“We’ll eat it with some of the rice from the chicken kabob plate.”
It was weird justifying how we were going to eat our entrée. The boyfriend said during our meal that he hoped she looked over while we were eating, because he felt like he had to prove that it could be done.
We walked to our table after we ordered and realized we didn’t have any drinks. We both said to each other “You do it” because neither of us wanted to have another exhausting conversation with the confrontational girl behind the counter. We discovered they don’t serve tap water, so we had to get some drinks in the refrigerator.
Our table was covered in plastic, and we noted when we wiped it down with napkins, fairly dirty. We were the only customers at the time, and while we waited for our food, two boys around six or seven played hide and seek in the dining area. They did this a few times during the meal, and often could be heard screeching while they played around the restaurant or running outside and then back inside. It was less charming than it might sound.
Speaking of sound, this place had the oddest music playing. Accompanying the gurgles of a small fountain in the dining area was a nature soundtrack featuring the chirping of birds.
Our Boneless Chicken Breast Kabob had nicely grilled and juicy meat, but the lemon in the marinade was actually a bit overwhelming. The rice and barbecued tomato were fine but pretty standard.
The Koobideh was the better dish. Our two skewers arrived with a small puddle of either oil or meat juices. It was nicely seasoned with a lot of sumac; however, the meat seemed a little overcooked. I’ve had better Koobideh, but not for $2.50 per skewer. For that price it’s a good cheap meal and worth another visit.
Also worth another visit? Lunch.They have a buffet then for $7 or $8. There were many dishes we asked about (Gheymeh stews, Koko Sabzi, and Naan-like bread) that seem to only be available then.
Katya’s Persian Rankings
1. Khayyam’s – Albany (the master – now closed - against which all Persian restaurants will forever be judged)
2. (tie) Shalizaar – San Mateo
2. (tie) Pomegranate – Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Concord (great barg and joojeh kabob with zereshk polo; pomegranate chicken is good but sweet taste can be cloying)
4. Chelokababi - Sunnyvale
5. Rose Market – Mountain View (rated so highly because of the value; need to re-evaluate because I only had a small sample of food)
6. Yas – San Jose (really impressive selection of polos – but other food is just OK)
7. Afghan Persian Kabob – Sunnyvale
8. KABOB HOUSE HALAL – Santa Clara
9. Bijan – Fremont (food too oily, and stews either too sweet or too ketchup-y)
Visited and have trouble remembering, but not near the top of the list:
Kabob House – Pleasant Hill
Papa’s - Berkeley
Kabob House Halal
2521 Newhall St. (at N. Winchester Blvd.)
Santa Clara, CA 95050