Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
San Francisco, CA 94133 (415) 362-0641
Pluses: Unusual but delicious spice combinations, tender meats
Minuses: Service can be slow when the restaurant is busy
Don't Miss: Appetizers, any of the lamb dishes
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate; appetizers are $3.95, entrees are $8.95 to 14.95
Overview: Open for lunch Monday to Friday, dinner daily
Visa, MasterCard, and American Express accepted
Free parking at lot at 468 Broadway
When I recommend the Helmand and tell people they serve Afghani food, the typical reaction is "Afghani food? What's that?" The dishes may be unfamiliar, but they are likely to appeal to the Western palate. The flavors are similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines -- cardamom, cinnamon, mint, cilantro, yogurt, and so on. Entrees are typically beef, lamb, or sometimes chicken, braised, grilled or saut»ed, and served with interesting sauces. Spinach and pumpkin appear often, as do various grains and legumes, such as rice, peas, and lentils.
The appetizers at the Helmand are so good, I could make an entire meal of them. I love the aushak, leek-filled ravioli with a yogurt, mint and garlic sauce, topped with ground beef and mint. The kaddo borawni, pumpkin served with yogurt garlic sauce, is soft and slightly sweet and melts in your mouth. Standout entrees include the kourma challow, lamb with Afghan seasonings plus cauliflower, green beans, and other vegetables, and the dwopiaza, grilled lamb tenderloin with a sauce of lightly vinegared onions. Vegetarians will appreciate the Helmand's selection of meatless appetizers and entrees.
The atmosphere at the Helmand is a little more formal than at many ethnic restaurants, with white tablecloths and rolling serving carts. In pleasant contrast to many San Francisco restaurants, carpeting and acoustical ceiling keep the noise level low enough for comfortable conversation. Prices are surprisingly low given the quality and generous quantity of food.