When I started getting fussy about which meats I’d eat in the line of duty, I knew it might limit the pool of restaurants I could choose from. But I also hoped my quest for clean meat would draw places out of the woodwork that I otherwise would have missed. Ariana Halal Market and Café is one such place.
Foods that are allowed under Muslim Shariah law are deemed “halal.” This strict code of dietary guidelines is often compared to Judaism’s kosher guidelines for food. If you’re picky about the personal history of your meat, halal offers a measure of security that attempts were made to treat the animal humanely, that it died quickly and that God was praised as it was killed.
As is the case with kosher meat, just because something is certified halal doesn’t mean it wasn’t produced in a factory farm, although many halal cooks—including those at Ariana—do pursue their meat according to the highest, cleanest, most ethical standards available. Most of the meat is from California, but some is from Colorado.
In-person and online, Ariana’s proprietors claim that most of the produce is local and most of the meat is organic—or in the case of the dilly salmon kebab, wild. The beef is grass-fed. All the meats I tried, save for the chicken, were impressive.
During one visit, I watched a guy come in and buy a sack of goat ribs, which were chopped into 3-inch sections. I ended up buying some of those ribs, too. (I took them home, broiled them and served them with green chile.)
Ordering off the menu, the chablei beef is billed as a gourmet Afghani hamburger, and it lives up to the claim. It looks more like a cow patty than a piece of cow meat, but the blend of spices and the fine grind of the beef make it highly addictive, no matter how much you’ve already eaten.
If you’re picky about the personal history of your meat, halal offers a measure of security that attempts were made to treat the animal humanely, that it died quickly and that God was praised as it was killed.
All of the dishes come with a hefty portion of white basmati rice dusted with tart, purple sumac powder (a shaker of which accessorizes each table). The dishes also all come with a green, mustardy chutney of cilantro and walnuts; a sauce that relies on housemade yogurt; a salad of diced tomato, cucumber and onion; and a slice of flatbread, which is baked twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Don’t go if you’re in a hurry. There could be a guy in front of you buying lamb tongues or pickled garlic heads that need to be fished out of the vat. When you order, much of the meal is made from scratch. But there’s no need to stay planted at your table while you wait—interesting grocery items like Bulgarian feta, organic Afghani figs, chickpea cookies and vats of grapeseed oil beg for your inspection.
Ariana’s street visibility is low, which on San Mateo means you need to crane your neck, slam on the brakes, jerk a turn and hopefully not start a pileup in order to get there. It’s on the west side of San Mateo, one or two old strip malls north of Copper.
The selection varies depending on which menu you consult. The menu posted at arianahalalmarket.com doesn’t include the appetizers found on the hard copy. My favorite was the shor nakot, a hearty bowl of chickpeas with fresh tomatoes and onions in a watery broth that had a mellow, lemony complexity. Neither menu mentions the hummus, which is creamy with just a few nice garbanzo chunks. Plans are afoot to introduce more vegetarian options to the menu. As it is, with two days’ notice you can enjoy a vegetarian feast with eggplant and falafel dishes, and many others.
Meanwhile, if you ask them to cook you up some halal goat ribs, they might do it if they have the time.
• Chablei beef
• Lamb, beef kofta and salmon kebabs
• Shor nakot chickpeas