The neon outline of Afghanistan greets people on the street, and if you can squint past this glow you will find the metal grill with all the kababs getting prepared. It's all the invitation I needed to walk in.
The interior is decorated with more homages to Afghanistan, carpets, and a large map showing the provinces (look for the namesake Balkh near Uzbekistan in the north). Also is a hand-written sign telling you what not to do, the most important being the consumption of alcohol in this restaurant.
I did not have to go far into the menu to find an array of items that I wanted to order, the appetizers section had no weak links. On a cold night, starting with the aashebride Balkh ($3.50, above) is a fine way to warm up. It's described as "Afghan spaghetti," and is a simple, hearty soup. There might have been three lamb balls in the bowl, but the broth shines brighter anyhow.
I can never resist a dumpling, no matter what the country of origin, so I ordered both the manto ($6.50, above, meat) and aushack ($5.50, below, scallions). Both came well covered in a spiced curry and a dribble of yogurt, but a handy mustard squeeze bottle filled with more was placed on the table when they were brought out. I was thinking I should make my own yogurt bottle to take with me to future restaurants, as so many things can be drenched in it successfully.
The biggest surprise of this array might have been the bolanee kadu ($4.50, below), fried pumpkin turnovers that were had such a lovely sweet puree inside the thin pastry. It also came with a yogurt dip, which was not necessary but still good.
Not to leave without at least one kabab in a kabab house, I ordered the keema ($5, below) a la carte with some rice. The beef is marinated and minced with herbs and spices and onions. On another visit I would stick to ordering as many varieties of kababs as possible to try them all, but just did not have the stomach to eat so much this time.
Fully stuffed by the end, it was nice to see the rather gruff staff finally smile. A customer had yelled at them when I was seated, so I think they were still coming out of that shock, but knowing this table was satisfied at least was some consolation for the night. The place got even friendlier as another group of Afghans walked in, greeted the owner/cook and took their seats, greeting friends. I should have stayed to spy on what they ordered, but maybe the next time.