Lahore Karahi

NOTE: Chef Guddu is no longer at Lahore Karahi; he is opening his own place in the Outer Sunset.



Since the talented cook is no longer at the helm at my favorite Indian joint, Little Delhi, I figured it was time to write up ~LAHORE KARAHI~, a strong contender to the throne of best Pakistani-Indian in the Tandooriloin (it's been around for a couple years). It's right smack at the corner of crack and wack, so don't be shocked with the hustle and hookin' as you make your way to the front door. (Whoa, looks like Jerri Blank is back on a bender!)

Like the nearby Tajine, it's a one-man show in the kitchen, giving the food a soulful and personal quality that can really be tasted. Chef "Guddu" is Mister Personality, and totally knows how to rock the karahi (wok). Since he insists on doing everything himself, the food can take a little time coming out of the kitchen. I'm not saying you'll be finished with "War and Peace" by the time your dal masala is served, but if you're totally hangry (hungry + angry), the minutes can definitely crawl. My advice: order some apps like the aloo tikki potato patties ($3) or the blistered vegetable samosas ($3) stuffed with nicely cooked peas and some potatoes that are almost like hash browns—odds are good those will come out relatively quickly. There, there… feel better now?

Since the joint is BYOB, one strategy is to place your order and then go on a beer run. Hint: the closest liquor stores oddly don't have beer—hit the one that's practically kitty corner to the restaurant. More advice for you: since Guddu has a way with spice, don't skimp on your beer purchase.

Speaking of spices, when the stone-faced server takes your order, designate how you really want it, and not how you think it will be served. Spicy is freaking spicy, so I usually stick within the medium range because I like to taste the nuances of the ingredients. You also get squeeze bottles of cool raita and tamarind chutney so you can accessorize to your heart's content.

The menu has some total winners, like the chicken korma ($5—yes, a paltry $5), with hunks of tender chicken in a deeply flavorful curry, or the karahi chicken ($6) with onion, tomato, and bell pepper. Sounds kind of "meh" but it's totally meow. I've had tikka masala I prefer elsewhere, but the bright saag gosht ($6.50) is a champ dish here, with savory herbs and spices.

Guddu is known for his tandoori fish ($10.95), a piping-hot plate laden with chunks of charred onion, plus lettuce draped on top of the fish and wedges of lemon nestled in. Okay, first off, this thing was so freaking hot it was splattering juice and oil all over the place. My dining partner and I totally had to hold up our napkins as splatter guards for at least two minutes, no joke. Now I see why the adjoining table had their fish sitting away on another table until they were ready to eat it. They were wise to the ways of the splatter-fest, and now you are too.

The fish itself was delicious—juicy, zingy, tender. But here's where things get complicated: we asked what kind of fish it was, and our surly waiter informed us that it's Chilean Sea Bass. Oh yeah, you mean the over-fished and endangered Patagonian toothfish that also has some less-than-lovely mercury levels, right? Here's hoping Guddu considers finding an alternate, like striped bass, or Pacific halibut. Next time I'm in there I'm gonna leave him a subtle "Seafood Watch" pocket guide—do you have one of these? You should. They're easy to carry in your wallet. So the next time you're at {insert fancy restaurant name here} and wondering if you should order the monkfish or not, you'll know exactly what to do.

Vegetarians don't have these issues, although they often have to deal with minimal menu choices. Not here! Veggie munchers will be stoked with the array of dishes—try twelve! Hands down, the star of that section for me is the aloo gobi ($6.50), an action-packed dish of tender cauliflower and potato, plus chunks of sautéed onion. The dish was saucy and silky but not all mashed to hell like you're a toddler eating Gerber baby food.

Don't miss a side of the basmati rice ($1.25), which has a special brown hue to it due to Guddu's special spice mix instead of the typical saffron yellow. His naans also have a really homemade taste and touch, like the plain naan ($1), which is satisfyingly chewy but a touch floury and dense for me. Maybe consider trying the whole-wheat roti ($1) instead. There are also the usual suspects, like onion kulcha ($2) or garlic naan ($2), plus an Afghani naan ($3), stuffed with raisins, nuts, cheese, and cherries.

The atmosphere is definitely bare bones: perhaps the most prominent feature will be a loud vintage Bollywood flick blaring from the TV set. Lahore Karahi draws a good mix of folks, from slumming gourmands to lucky neighborhood denizens to group dinners of Pakistani men.

One small note: the servers can be a bit bizarre. There's one in particular who is soooooo crotchety—one night he had a look on his face like he was ready to knife us. We ended up nicknaming him the water pusher: after every two or three sips of water he was back again, asking if we wanted more, while the dirty dishes continued to pile up higher and higher. No big deal—besides, the sweet chef is what the place is really all about. How sweet? He might even send out dessert to you, like kulfi (Indian ice cream) served with toothpicks ($4, or perhaps free if you're a friendly regular). Welcome to the family.

Lahore Karahi
612 O'Farrell St.
Cross: Leavenworth St.
San Francisco, CA 94109

415-567-8603
Daily 11am-11pm

Apps $1-$3.50
Entrées $6-$10.95
Dessert $2-$4

612 O'Farrell St. San Francisco
(at Leavenworth St.)
415-567-8603
$

Cuisine

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Vegetarian-Friendly

Features

  • Good for Groups
  • Kid Friendly
  • Lunch