Before I start my review, I have to give my boyfriend props for the awesome Chelokababi puns he suggested for the title:
Chelokababi: unfit for Yo Yo Makababi
Chelokababi? I hardly know kababi!
Chelo(kababi), is it me you're looking for?
Persian Bill Murray stars in "What About Chelokababi?"
Ruuuu-dyyyyyyy, eat your Chelokababi Pudding Pops!
Knowing my passion for Persian food, many people have suggested I try Chelokababi in Sunnyvale. Well, the short story is that even though it’s good, it’s worth it to drive the extra distance to Shalizaar in San Mateo for a stellar meal. I’ll show you why:
Shalizaar is elegant with white tablecloths and curiously retains a tree with a fake bird near the entrance. Don’t get me wrong – I love the fake bird, but Chelokababi has really tried hard to make dining there a unique ethnic experience, with rugs on the walls and other touches. Chelokababi has three doorways that rise to distinctive Islamic architectural points. Behind each is a semi-secluded booth that looks super cozy and great for a date.
Winner: Chelokababi by three Islamic architectural points
At Chelokababi we were presented with a basket of pita. It was thin, not warm, and tasted store-bought. Shalizaar’s free snack is a basket of lavash, which by itself is thin and fairly bland. However, it is accompanied by a basket of “herbs grown in Los Altos Hills” (exotic!), feta, and walnuts. I make mini-burrito after mini-burrito of these ingredients until my meal comes.
Chelokababi has an appetizer on the menu for $5.50 that sounds identical to Shalizaar’s free one called Nan-O-Sabzi. However, since it’s not free...
Winner: Shalizaar. What can I say? I’m a free food whore.
Granted, Shalizaar is hard to live up to. My boyfriend declared their chicken breast kabob we special-ordered with one of the polos to be the best chicken he’d ever tasted. In addition, their polos (zeresht and shirin polos) are full-flavored and their tah dig is texturally perfect.
If I’d never been to Shalizaar I would have thought Chelokababi’s food to be quite good. The koobideh ($9.50), lean ground meat kabobs, was our best entrée. The kabobs were juicy and bursting with flavor.
Before this trip, I hadn’t tried koobideh since an ill-fated trip to now-closed Khayaam’s. I’m not sure if it was the taste of the koobideh at Khayaam’s (not as good as Chelokababi’s) or the appearance (let’s just say it was brown and had a shape that looked EXACTLY like it had been pushed through a large intestine) that had turned us off. The server boxed up the leftovers even though we didn’t want them, and we ended up planting them in our dorm’s urinal in a bizarre attempt to make it look like someone was confused. Really confused. We may have even taken pictures.
I’m not sure why my reviews always have to take a turn for the fecal.(Footnote 1)
Passage to India, Paragraph 2
Chevys in South SF, Last Review on Page
But I digress...
Chelokababi’s chicken breast kabob ($11.95) with the zeresht polo addition ($3.95) was disappointing. The meat was nicely flavored but dry. The zeresht polo which usually consists of basmati rice with barberries, sliced nuts (pistachios or almonds), bits of orange peel, or some combination thereof, only included currant berries here, which made for a rather one-dimensional dish.
Also, some of my favorite Perisan dishes (ghormeh sabzi, fesenjoon) are only available at Chelokababi one day a week as a daily special
Winner: Even though the turd was tasty, I’m still dreaming about Shalizaar.
Not that it’s really even important to me (I’m all about the food), but Shalizaar is always on top of things with knowledgeable servers, and omnipresent bus boys. No one even came to refill my water glass at Chelokababi, and it was empty halfway into my Chelokababi experience. Since my boyfriend’s a camel and doesn’t seem to need liquid, I drank from his.
Winner: Shalizaar by a bus boy army
The $6.95 tah dig appetizer at Shalizaar is big enough for a meal. The zeresht or shirin polo is $11.95 - $12.95 and the chicken breast option that comes with it is an extra $5, making it more expensive than either of the entrees we ordered at Chelokababi. However, from just those two dishes at Shalizaar the two of us always have three complete leftover meal servings. At Chelokababi I only had a little bit of some koobideh left over which only consisted of half a dinner for one of us.
Winner: Shalizaar by a couple Styrofoam containers
My Ranking of Bay Area Persian Restaurants
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. 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
1236 S Wolfe Rd. (at El Camino Real)
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Secrets of Ordering off the Menu at Shalizaar – A Guide to Getting the Best Persian Food on the Peninsula (and Perhaps the Bay Area)