Put a Spell On You
The Kabab House
How, exactly, does one spell “kabob?” That is my preferred spelling, though a bit of research shows that “kebab,” “kabab” and even “kebap” are all acceptable. Clearly there are different schools of thought at play here. The owners of the Kabab House, a tiny joint behind a rustic latilla fence on Cornell and Lead, must have struggled with the same question. Their solution seems to have been to give two major spelling variants equal time. The restaurant’s name is “Kabab.” It is subtitled on its signage as “King of Kabobs,” and the menu offers both versions smattered throughout. A friend of mine considers this worrisomely unprofessional and refuses to set foot inside. I, on the other hand, think that any indication of a language barrier should be viewed as a sign of authenticity. I couldn’t wait to try the place out.
Boy, am I glad I did. No matter how you spell it, the Kabab House has now become one of my favorite Albuquerque restaurants.
It’s a tiny little place with seating for perhaps twenty people, though I’ve never seen more than half that at one time. If you stop in for lunch, you’re likely to be the only customers there. The dining room is bright and cozy with Persian decor on the walls (a goat hide vest, some sort of rustic shoes). It’s a perfect place for a quiet moment to catch up on work or read through a compelling book while you wait for your food. Dinner time tends to be busier, but that still means you’ll be facing a maximum of three other tables. My only complaint about the atmosphere is the large flat-screen television playing Middle Eastern soap operas in the corner (which seem to feature an attempted murder every 15 minutes or so), but when I mentioned it to my server, he turned it off immediately.
The Kabab House serves up Persian (or Iranian) cuisine and specializes in, surprise, kabobs. But the menu offers more than that.Try not to think about the huge amount of food you’re about to get with your entrée and start with the appetizers. There’s a smooth hummus ($3.99) served with sumac spice that gives it a tangy interest that lemon just can’t pull off. Iranian flatbread, think pita, accompanies it, as it does the kashk bademjan ($4.99). This is an eggplant and yogurt-based dip, garnished with mint, that manages a creamy, buttery sweetness that should be a revelation to anyone like myself who long ago dismissed eggplant as one of those foods to be avoided at all costs. Put it on your bread, and consider its unexpectedly delicious flavors a sign of things to come.
No matter how you spell it, the Kabab House has now become one of my favorite Albuquerque restaurants.
Beverage-wise, you’re best treading carefully. Persian cuisine employs some flavors that are well outside of our Western wheel house when it comes to liquid refreshment. In particular, the yogurt-based doogh provides an explosion of savory, sour and salty taste that may send those who don’t know what they’re getting into running for the door. Fortunately a cup of black tea will do nicely for the uninitiated, and if you have a sweet tooth, try the majoun ($3.99), which is something like a walnut, honey, pistachio and banana smoothie. There’s also a surprisingly good beer selection on hand, including a few brews from Tractor and Ska Brewing.
And now we’re ready for the kabobs. But they’re not here yet. If you order them as an entrée, their arrival is preceded by a bowl of traditional Persian soup, made with a chicken broth, tomatoes and carrots. It’s a delicately spiced family recipe with dill and paprika, and exerts a calming warmth with each swallow. Salad is next, iceberg lettuce, but at least it’s fresh, and the house dressing (yogurt-based, again) is delicious.
Now the kabobs arrive. They come in three basic varieties: lamb, beef and chicken. Unless you just have to have it, I’d skip the beef. Instead, aim right for the chicken and especially the lamb. The bone-in lamb kabob, or shishlik ($13.99), is a half dozen mini-chops with a touch of spicy char glazing the succulent meat itself. The House also offers a boneless lamb version, but come on, why would you deny yourself both the flavor of a whole chop and the pleasure of eating it with your fingers? This is no time for squeamishness. Of the several varieties of chicken, I recommend the barg kabob ($12.99). The tender poultry has been marinated in an olive oil, onion and spice mixture, making for a wonderfully complex bite.
Still hungry? Of course not, but there’s still plenty of food on this plate. A mountain of basmati rice, a grilled green chile and a roasted tomato round out the dish. The chile in particular is a nice surprise; hardly traditional Persian, but when has a New Mexican ever objected to a surprise green chile?
Assuming that you somehow have room left, there are several dessert options available. My favorite is falludeh, which isn’t on the menu yet, but advertised via poster in the front room. This is a scoop of frozen pomegranate juice in a bowl of honeyed rosewater with a few starch noodles providing effervescent texture. With your belly full from the entrée’s excesses, the evaporating refreshment of falludeh offers a welcome conclusion to the meal.
The Kabab House location has been through ups and downs over the last few years, with a former incarnation of the restaurant (under different ownership) effectively murdered by the massive Lead/Coal construction project. As such, it’s good to see the latest restaurant in the space not just surviving but thriving, at least so far as the food is concerned. Now they just need some customers, and maybe to decide on a single spelling for their signature dish.
301 Cornell SE
Hours: 11am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday
Price Range: $9-$15 for entreés; $7.99 for lunch special
Vibe: Cozy and quiet (unless the TV’s on)
Extras: Lunch specials and a good beer selection
Vegetarian options: Yes
Weekly Alibi recommends: Shishlik lamb kabobs, chicken barg kabob, kashk bademjan and falludeh for dessert.