I might argue that the best restaurant in Oakland Chinatown isn’t actually Chinese, but is in fact, Afghan. I suppose that Afghan cuisine might be a tough sell in this political climate, especially since Afghanistan has been portrayed rather (shall we say) negatively in the Western media. Of course, the same exact thing can be said for Syria, or just about any other country in the Greater Middle East. It’s a shame that this region has become the epicenter of so much upheaval, although it’s hardly anything new. Religious wars have been waged in this area since the Crusades.
From a culinary standpoint, the Greater Middle East boasts tremendous historical importance as the site of the Silk Road, the earliest commercial link between Europe and Asia. Cities such as Kanduhar and Kabul occupied key positions on the Silk Road’s Southern Route, and the spoils of the spice trade are thus reflected in the Afghan cuisine. I’m a junkie for food history, so I may be somewhat biased in this regard, but I think that there’s something mesmerizing about these ancient flavor profiles, especially in the right hands.
To put it succinctly, Kamdesh Afghan Kabab House floors me every single time. I had a great meal there about a year ago, and my most recent visit last month was equally stellar. Back in June, I ordered Kamdesh’s kubideh, pictured above, and this deftly-seasoned ground beef kabab was succulent, sophisticated, and just an all-around pleasure to eat. Kamdesh’s fare may be the best Middle Eastern cuisine in the Bay Area, though I’m still on the case.
Like most entrees at Kamdesh, their kubideh comes standard with a generous portion of their “brown” rice, which is not to be discounted as some sort of flavorless health food. I wouldn’t send you down that road. Look closely, and you’ll notice that Kamdesh’s rice is actually basmati, which turns brown after it’s simmered in a rich, broth-based cooking liquid. This rice isn’t just some starchy afterthought, it’s serious sustenance.