Occupation: Freelance Fashion Writer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Lahore Karahi
Reviewed Lahore Karahi: Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The location of Lahore Karahi is in the heart of the Tenderloin, one of the most diverse, colorful, and "real" neighborhoods in the city. Tourists don’t usually end up there unless it’s by wandering away from Union Square by mistake, and a lot of locals find it too edgy, but I love it for its historical architecture and unbeatable people watching! You could easily dismiss Lahore Karahi by looks alone -- the exterior is humble with plain awnings and has nothing that makes it stand out from the other Indian/Pakistani restaurants in the neighborhood. However, if you peer inside you will see that it attracts quite a clientele, from students, to neighborhood folks, to people who have sought it out by reputation.
When you walk inside, your experience begins. The place is filled with wonderful aromas from the open grill and kitchen, and amid the smoke you can see the kitchen staff and Guddu, the chef and owner, busily preparing an array of dishes. Guddu will usually find the time to greet you personally with his wide and friendly smile that, without even a word, seems to say, "I will take care of you."
The décor is nothing special (not quite a dive, but about as casual as you can get), but this is a place you come to for the food and the excellent value rather than the atmosphere. Service can be uneven and even slow at times (they get very crowded around dinner time, and make everything to order, one dish at a time), so once you get seated, it’s a great time to send someone in your party to the corner liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine while you order appetizers.
We ordered the shammi kebab, which is a ground lamb on a skewer, sort of a cross between a sausage and a meatball. It is spicy and savory, and pairs perfectly with a cool and creamy mango lassi to get your palate started. One thing to note about Lahore Karahi is that they use Halal meat (which uses slaughtering practices that are similar to Kosher meat), which many people believe to be of superior quality.
I like to order a curry and a tandoori. My standby is always the chicken tikka masala with its velvety and spicy red sauce and chunks of chicken. I find that so many restaurants prepare this dish to taste like cream of tomato soup, but not so here. Indian/Pakistani food is spicier than just Indian food, so I like to order plenty of naan and the Lahore Karari rice to soak up all of the rich sauce. At just $1 for the naan, you can order a lot! My favorite tandoori by far is the fish tandoori. It is so wonderful -- big chunks of tender fish, expertly grilled and spiced. It’s a huge portion, so it’s best to share, and that moment when the steaming platter of fish comes to your table with the fragrant peppers and onions is not to be missed.
Usually, I am too full after dinner to order dessert, but I have had the kheer, which is rice pudding and it is a nice cooling end to the meal. Rather than dessert, I like to order another mango lassi, they are sweet but not overly sweet, and are a must with the spicy food!
I have brought all kinds of people here, from out-of-town relatives to long-time S.F. residents, and they have all loved it. It’s a nice change from the high-style (and high-priced) restaurants that dominate the top 100 lists, and the experience is just as much of a treat. It can be loud and crowded at times, or quiet and cozy at others, but no matter when I go, I always leave full, happy, and with a smile.
Occupation: Nursing Student
Favorite Restaurant: Patio Filipino
Reviewed Lahore Karahi: Sunday, February 14, 2010
When most Americans today hear, "Indian food," they think of spices, curry, and even Pepto-Bismol. Although there are many people, like myself, who'll go reaching for the Tums at the very thought, what my party and I discovered at Lahore Karahi was the feeling of a home-cooked meal at a reasonable price and friendly service.
Having limited exposure to Indian food, I decided the best way to give an honest opinion would be to start at the roots. And so our dining adventure began by trying out longtime Indian staples. In a neighborhood packed with Pakistani/Indian restaurants, it’s hard to shine. But with several standout dishes, it’s easy to see why Lahore Karahi continues to thrive, despite the sketchy Tenderloin locale.
While deciding on the menu, we snacked on pappadam -- a perfectly fried, crispy wafer that reminded me of the chips and salsa you’ll find at Mexican restaurants. We started our meal off by ordering several appetizers, including the samosas. A bit overcooked and burned around the edges, we tried to appreciate the dish but found the preparation overpowered most of its flavor. After cutting it in half, we discovered that it was a little skimpy on the spices, which probably explained why it lacked much of the punch we were looking for. For our main entrees, we paired the delectable garlic naan with the chicken tikka masala, a rich and creamy tomato-based sauce with generous portions of fresh chicken. The next entrée was just as good: a zesty prawn vindaloo that had the right combination of spiciness and curry to leave our tongues wondering, "What’s next?"
What was next, however, never arrived. After forgetting to bring us our order of the lamb biryani, we followed up with the owner. But a word of warning to those who've never been before: beware. Despite the warm, welcoming service, you may find yourself spending more time there than you expected. The owner of the restaurant is also the waiter, the chef, the busboy, and the cashier. With so many roles to play, you’ll find out why it’s the food and not the service that has customers coming back. Unfortunately for us, even after following up, it was too late. The owner, who seemed to have perfected the role of multitasking, failed to bring us our order yet again, and we lost interest.
In the end, if you’re in a bit of a time crunch, this may not be the best place for you. Lahore Karahi offers tasty dishes, but if it's a home-cooked meal you’re looking for I, personally, would rather stay at home.
Occupation: Financial Advisor
Location: Santa Clara
Favorite Restaurant: Sam's Grill and Seafood Restaurant
Reviewed Lahore Karahi: Saturday, February 6, 2010
Lahore Karahi is certainly an adventurous dining experience. It is a true "hole in the wall" facility, tucked in the middle of a dicey block in a less than savory part of the Tenderloin. Cautious types may not want to walk this area at night -- we were aggressively panhandled three times in one block.
The interior of the restaurant is Spartan, at best. It is not dirty, but it has not been cleaned or spruced up in quite a while. The bathrooms are filthy and amenities, such as the towel dispenser, are broken.
We were directed on entry to the end of a plain Formica community table, then waited fifteen minutes for menus and another fifteen minutes to order. Our young waiter did his best, considering he takes orders, serves, buses, and cleans up for the entire restaurant, which ran 2/3 to completely full, a total of thirty seats.
We ordered as full a range of dishes as two people can handle. We started by ordering several of the interesting-looking appetizers but, at 6:00 on a Saturday evening, they were out of every appetizer save one, the vegetable Kahari, a mixed vegetable fritter. We were hungry enough to have almost anything taste good, but the veggie fritter was light, greaseless, and very tasty, especially with the addition of several savory sauces on the table; they have an especially good cool cucumber cream sauce that went wonderfully with the fritter. I must admit that the use of herbs, spices, and flavorings is well considered, and put together by a cook with a sensitive and diverse sense of taste.
We ordered a variety of curries and vegetable dishes as well as a bowl of spicy-flavored basmati rice. Especially good were the naan, one stuffed with spicy potatoes and herbs and also a superb sesame seed version. Our food took nearly an hour from our entrance to arrive and our harried waiter, who looks shockingly like Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire, apologized throughout the meal. I finally had to walk over to the small cooler to get Cokes to fight off the very spicy curries. However, if you do it yourself, you can have your own water pitcher! Drinks are limited to Coke, 7 Up, several fruit sodas, and water and tea.
The main dishes, when they finally arrived, were served in identical serving bowls and each looked very similar in color and texture; we had trouble figuring which was which. The rice and accompanying chutney were excellent foils, but we were served at the end of the meal after asking for them several times.
The clientele was quite eclectic -- half looked to be natives of south Asian countries, and it pays to watch what they order -- lots of tandoori platters sizzled by on their way to the tables of the cognoscenti. My daughter and I were eating our dinner before going to see Rent: The Musical, and it looked like the cast was in the dining room with us. A good number of young S.F. hipsters were there enjoying the very cheap eats. Most dishes are as low as $2 and as high as $7.50, a great bargain in these times.
All in all, the indignities of the area, the rundown place, and the terrible service were not enough to make the bold food worth the effort. If great and diverse curries are your passion, then go for it and ignore the above! However, if you want to freak out your aunt and uncle visiting from Ohio, send them to Lahore.