Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s politically strategic location found it in the crosshairs of many outside intruders, from the empirical conquerors of yesteryear to more modern-day invaders. Yet, while we’re relatively hesitant to incorporate a full-blown history lesson in the midst of a restaurant review, there still lies an importance for one to have some sort of perspective as to what’s on the plate before them.
We’re guessing that the Afghan Palace proprietors would likely agree. The Rancho Cucamonga restaurant isn’t just a place to grab a quick something—instead, the location has been transformed into part dining room, part educational experience. Between slurps of the succulent mashawa soup and bites of the tasteful chicken kabobs, you’re reminded of the many centuries that have been poured into the creation of such a delicacy. A massive mural of the rugged Afghan terrain and the battles waged within them occupies almost the entire eastern wall. Other decorative aspects of the Afghan Palace aren’t pointedly palatial, but are instead purposefully rural, including burlap accents—which are even placed on the covers of the menus—that remind one of the sacks saddled to the backs of donkeys toiling on the trade routes that once traversed the nation. They’re pleasant and inoffensive touches furthering an ambiance that also featuring Afghan music playing in the background.
Though the country is rich and complex in its heritage, the menu options at the Afghan Palace are actually more simplistic: A batch of appetizers, sandwiches, soups and salads, a host of vegetarian options, some sides and even a pair of kid-friendly items (with prices that parent-friendly, too).
Fittingly, there’s the main offering and the staple of its country of origin, the kabobs. Available in a number of ways, we opted for the barg beef (a marinated filet), chicken breast and fish variants—you can order just one kind of meat or get two on the same plate (combination) for just a few more bucks.
The kabob plates that the Palace serves up are reasonable priced at $9-$15, and it’s a meal with all its royal appointments, including a bowl of the aforementioned mashawa soup (featuring garbanzos, kidney beans and lentils, beef, yogurt and dill—a perennial favorite appetizer), lovely white basmati rice, hummus, onions and plenty of hot ‘n’ grilled pita bread slices for the taking.
If we had to rank them—after downing all three tastes, making such a selection is a difficult exercise—the chicken kabob rises as our top choice. There’s nothing that beats a beautifully marinated chunk of chicken breast, and as far as our mouths are concerned, this one’s worth every bite. The some half-dozen pieces (on the combination plate) don’t initially appear like a stomach stuffer when plate meets table, but after the dish’s licked clean, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever create room for anything else. The beef barg and fish options are hardly second place contenders; on the contrary, they’re first-rate offerings, as the beef’s spiced to perfection (read: it’s not over-spiced) and the fish becomes as the ultimate complement to the heaping of basmati rice.
Housed in a cozy corner of the shopping center, Afghan Palace easily creates an eating environment all to its own. And although the food’s its main attraction, you’ll always leave feeling like you’ve not only tried something a little different from a daily routine of burgers and burritos, but maybe also learned a thing or two in the process. And sometimes, that’s just what fine dining’s all about.
The Afghan Palace, 8685 Baseline Rd., Rancho Cucamonga, (909) 466-3723; www.afghanpalacecuisine..com; AE, D, MC, V