Ariana Kabob House: A is for Afghanistan

Welcome to our new project, Where in the World Can We Eat in San Diego! Each month, we’ll be trying food from a different country or place, going in alphabetical order by the beginning letter. Despite devoting years to eating on Convoy Street, Jenne and I have barely scratched the surface of the diverse cuisines San Diego has to offer. Despite this lockdown, one way we can travel is through our taste buds, and trying more of our incredible, local, immigrant-owned restaurants.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read, you begin with A! I had a taste of Afghanistan through Ariana Kabob House in Mira Mesa.

Ariana Kabob House

Owner snapshot: Nadia Maher and Wahid Maher

The story of Ariana Kabob House is an American romance. Owners Nadia and Wahid Maher were both born and raised in Afghanistan. She was 17 and he was 21 when they got to know each other. But then, Nadia’s family moved to Virginia, and Wahid went to study in Germany. Such long distance would mean the end of most budding relationships… but they managed to reconnect through phone calls and letters. Nadia had to fly to Germany to marry Wahid so they could both come to live in the U.S. When Nadia speaks of her husband, she overflows with affection.

“We are best friends,” Nadia says. “Otherwise, it would be really hard running the restaurant with each other. It’s like living together 24/7!”

Nadia has been in the dining business since 1977; as a teenager, she began helping out at her brother’s restaurant. In 1989, she and Wahid married and moved to California. She had attended a few years of university, but with a small child, she felt comfortable doing what she loved most: running a restaurant and cooking.

Ariana Kabob House is a true mom-and-pop shop. It’s just the two of them running the whole show, and they do everything together. Nadia is the main chef, and Wahid helps her with the kabobs. Over the years, they raised their children in the restaurant, and their business was doing wonderfully. But then COVID hit. The pandemic struck them hard, and now they worry over how much longer they can keep their doors open if the shutdown continues. They want the community to know that every new customer, every single order, makes a difference. Nadia says, “With each person who comes in, I pray, and I thank them in my heart.”

Our favorite items:

Gulpi chalow, korme mushroom, and their array of vegetarian side dishes — especially the barunee badenjan (eggplant), barunee kadu (butternut squash), dal (red lentils), and gulpi (cauliflower).

Notes:

  • This is my favorite kind of food — it tastes like cozy home-cooking, with good, strong seasoning. Nadia explained to us that she serves dishes that she would feed her own family: “Homemade food, like I make for my children. I have to make it perfect.” The recipes are made healthfully, but not in a depressing way. The meat in the kabob is very lean, and I felt satisfied without it sitting heavily in my stomach. Nadia laughed, “People from Afghanistan would probably complain because it doesn’t have enough oil.”
Combination kabob. Their homemade hot sauce is more flavorful than it is spicy.
  • I highly recommend the gulpi chalow — the lamb is juicy and fork-tender, and the cauliflower is delicious!
The gulpi chalow: “tender lamb shank and cauliflower cooked with onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and fine spices.” All entrées come with rice, salad, and bread.
  • Our order felt very balanced in a way that’s hard to get with takeout. There’s plenty of protein, plenty of vegetables, plenty of rice, and dessert to boot. With a lot of restaurants, at least one of these pieces is lacking, but not so with Ariana Kabob House.
  • Being a classic Midwesterner, eating my veggies usually feels like such a chore to me, but I love these flavorful sides!
Baklava.

What we want to try next:

Their chicken curry has rave reviews, so we gotta try that. Also, this restaurant’s vegetable game is strong. I want to have a full flight of all of their side dishes.

Restaurant information:

Address: 9910 Mira Mesa Blvd #A
Phone number: 858-578-1468  
Accepts credit cards? Yes
Parking: Shared lot
Available vegetarian options: A selection of comforting vegetables, which can be combined with rice and dessert to make a full and satisfying meal. I’m an enthusiastic meat-eater, but my favorite part of the order was the side dishes. Surprise!

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