My first apartment in San Francisco was in North Beach, on Telegraph Hill. I thought I would be eating a lot of Italian food but what I discovered was that North Beach was a neighborhood in transition. New restaurants were opening up, not necessarily Italian ones. A restaurant that opened up right around the corner from me on Broadway was an Afghani place, The Helmand. The food was different from other cuisines yet not too exotic and because the prices were low it quickly became a favorite neighborhood spot. Not long after Gourmet magazine discovered it and gave it a terrific review. Fortunately The Helmand has remained inexpensive and has very good service despite its populaity. Perhaps most surprising is how elegant the restaurant is, with linen tablecloths, soft lighting, beautiful photography and an exposed brick wall it looks like a much more expensive place than it really is.
Some of the best dishes at The Helmand are the vegetable ones. They are also different from anything I've had anywhere else. One favorite dish is Kaddo, a baked pumpkin that is so sweet it is almost candied and served with a yogurt sauce. Another dish is Banjan, a pan-fried eggplant seasoned with spices and baked with fresh tomatoes and served with a garlic mint yogurt sauce. The cool yogurt balances the rich and flavorful egglant. This yogurt sauce shows up again on Aushak, a leek and scallion filled ravioli along with either a split pea sauce or ground beef sauce depending upon your preference. I am crazy about most kinds of dumplings and Aushak is no exception. I am determined to see if I can recreate this specialty. Hopefully I will be able to do it in time for the next "Is My Blog Burning?" theme: dumplings.
Also on the menu at The Helmand are great lamb dishes, I recommend the tender kebabs or the succulent rack of the lamb. The rack of lamb is the most expensive thing on the menu and is $17.95. Appetizers are about $5 and most entrees are in the $11-15 range. They also feature a lunch buffet for $9.95 or you can order from the regular menu. And if you enjoy the whole "six separations" thing, you'll be interested to know the proprietor of the restaurant is the brother of Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan. The Helmand also has a sister restaurant of the same name in Cambridge, Mass.
2424 Van Ness Ave