Best Thing We Ate
Unsung Heroes: Helmand Palace
Welcome to Unsung Heroes, a newer column where we explore the under-appreciated, amazing and long-standing classics of the Bay Area that don't get nearly enough love in the press. For our latest column, a diamond in the rough of Van Ness:
The Gist: The San Francisco Afghan great has churned out excellent, affordable dishes for over 20 years, first in its original North Beach spot, and now in its mellow Russian Hill locale towards the end of Van Ness Ave. It's named after a region of Afghanistan along the Helmand River running through fertile desert.
The Vibe: Dark blues, soft yellows and white tablecloths are the backdrop for this slightly dated, upscale, and typically quiet setting for enjoying Afghan delights. The staff is sweet and attentive, keeping the blue water glasses perpetually filled.
Eat This: The lamb is a house favorite: whether as dwopiaza ($16.95), a grilled leg sautéed with yellow split peas and tossed with vinegar-marinated onions, or as chowpan ($24.95), a half rack served on Afghan bread with rice and sauteed eggplant. The favorites we keep returning to for over a decade, however, are kaddo ($5.95 starter, $11.95 as entree), pan-fried, then baked, pumpkin doused in a cooling yogurt-garlic sauce and aushak (pictured — $6.95 starter, $12.95 entree), Afghan raviolis filled with leeks and scallions, in a sauce of yogurt, mint, garlic, tomato. Order it with or without ground beef. The kaddo evokes the comforts of fall cooled by summer breezes. The aushak tastes like Middle Eastern cuisine meets red sauce Italian.
The Damage: You could make a meal out of small plates running $4.95-6.95, but there are plenty of low-to-upper teens entrees that are a generous meal for one, including sides. 2424 Van Ness Ave., 415-345-0072