Kebabs, concerts and kofta at Khyber Pass on Grand Ave.

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Kebabs, concerts and kofta at Khyber Pass on Grand Ave.

The entrance to Khyber Pass. Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

The entrance to Khyber Pass. Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

The entrance to Khyber Pass. Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

The entrance to Khyber Pass. Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

Lily Deheny, Food and Drink Editor

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On my way to Dunn Bros, I saw a sticker on the Khyber Pass door stating “Best Middle Eastern Restaurant 2019, City Pages.” That piqued my interest, and after confirming The Mac Weekly had never reviewed it, I decided to stop by. On a rainy, chilly Saturday I made the short trek over to Khyber Pass to find out more about its award-winning food.

Immediately after entering, a server showed me to a table, and I took in the peaceful interior of the restaurant. It is on Grand Avenue, but, unlike Dunn Bros, the busy street is not visible from inside Khyber Pass. In a genius move, the owners covered the windows facing the street with large plants which allow light in, but block out the commotion from the street.

Coupled with the soft, yellow lighting and colorful-but-not-garish fabrics in the main area, it feels like an escape from the constant rat race of Macalester. The walls are adorned with photographs of Afghanistan by local artist George Pfaff, concert posters and paintings by Emel Sherzad ­— who owns the restaurant with his wife Masooda.

I decided to sample the lunch buffet. Khyber Pass offers a 10 percent student discount that brings the price of the all-you-can eat lunch buffet to $10.35. I also ordered the Afghani tea ($3.00), which was waiting for me as I made my way back from the line.

The buffet offers a large selection of food, including a number of vegetarian options. My personal favorite was the curried potatoes which combined a hint of spice with warm, soft flavors to almost melt in the mouth. However, with the huge array of options, everyone is certain to find something wonderful. From a smoky chicken kebab with lemon and onions to warm daal (a type of lentil soup) to a crisp salad with lime, there are copious options for all.

From the lunch buffet. Photo by Lily Denehy ’22.

In addition to the variety of options, the description tags above the food suggest what to pair different foods with. For example, the chicken curry suggests adding the basmati rice, curried potatoes and cilantro chutney. Trust the tags, because I tried the chicken curry with those three additions and it was scrumptious. The cilantro chutney adds spice to the rich, savory curry while the potatoes and rice add substance. However, it does add a kick, so if you’re not a fan of that you should avoid the chutney.

Both the chicken kebab and shola deserve to be mentioned here as well. The kebab is crispy but not dry with wonderful smokey flavor. It comes with onions as well as lemon to add a citrusy tang to the chicken. The shola, a thick mixture of mung beans and rice, was delectable with some hints of sweetness among the heavy flavors.

The buffet also offers kofta — beef meatballs with cilantro chutney on top. The beef is extra-lean, free of preservatives and artificial flavors. These meatballs are exquisite. Without the chutney they’re savory, but adding the spice of the chutney puts them on an entirely different level.

In addition to the all-natural beef, Khyber Pass is full of organic and sustainably sourced food. All beans and legumes are organic, as are the teas. They grind most of the spices themselves, so they’re truly the freshest available. The lamb is some of the best in the world and is also free from preservatives and artificial flavors. Finally, most recipes use as little oil as possible to keep the food healthy.

The final decision at any restaurant is dessert. Despite the baklava and daygcha on the menu, I opted for the fimi. Fimi is a milk custard flavored with cardamom and rosewater, topped with crushed pistachios. It was probably my favorite dish there. It’s very sweet, but the perfect end to a full-flavored meal. The rosewater is not overpowering, and the cardamom adds an herbal flavor to the sweet custard.

Overall, the food at Khyber Pass is exquisite as is the service. The servers are very attentive and will continually fill up water, tea or other drinks (Khyber Pass does sell wine and beer for those over 21) throughout the meal, as well as check in about the food. They’re also friendly and readily asked for my student ID, so I could get the 10 percent discount.

In addition to the wonderful food, low prices, calm environment and exquisite service, Khyber Pass occasionally has concerts. These concerts are just $5 for students ($10 for everyone else). Concerts are Thursday nights at 9:30 p.m. and feature improvised live music from local artists. The next show is Oct. 17 and doubles as an album release for George Marich and a birthday party for the restaurant.

All in all, Macalester students are lucky to have a wonderful, award-winning restaurant just across the street.

Khyber Pass is located at 1571 Grand Ave. in St. Paul, MN.

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