Updated: April 9, 2015 at 2:13 p.m.
Your new favorite international cuisine may be hiding under the guise of a typical pizza and burger joint.
At Local 16, a casual restaurant that’s operated on U Street for 12 years, owner Aman Ayoubi has introduced a new Afghan dinner menu. The added options are being served Wednesdays through Saturdays only, in addition to the traditional menu.
Ayoubi said he wanted to make food that would honor his mother’s family recipes. He said he left Afghanistan right after the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 and “never looked back.”
He described the cuisine as a blend of flavors from countries neighboring Afghanistan, including dishes from Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. He said he hopes the restaurant’s new menu will attract GW students who are already out on U Street.
Local 16’s reasonably priced small-plate servings are a welcome alternative to pricier tapas at José Andrés’ Zaytinya and Jaleo, or La Tasca.
The restaurant’s stand-out grilled lamb chops ($9) include three tender, chewy pieces of lamb served over warm flatbread made in-house.
The dish also has a stamp of approval from a former ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, who was at the table across from me, happily piling another lamb chop onto his plate on a Friday evening.
If you don’t like lamb, try the Kabuli Pulao with fire-grilled chicken served over saffron-scented rice and mixed raisins and carrots. The restaurant also offers lamb broth and $5 four-bean soup, which is hearty though the broth has a slightly greasy texture.
I also tried Mantu, a delicately steamed ground beef dumpling dish for $6 covered with a creamy, carrot-yogurt sauce. Dumplings also came pan-fried and filled with veggies, with the crisp wrapper offering a welcome contrast to the Mediterranean-inspired mint yogurt sauce served with the dish.
Don’t skip the potato-and-leek-stuffed flatbread, called bolani, for $5, which is cooked in the restaurant’s pizza ovens and is a cross between Indian naan and calzone crust. It can be eaten alone or used as a doughy, mildly onion-flavored delivery vehicle for its accompanying zesty cilantro sauce. Bolani is also a helpful sponge to sop up any leftover dumpling sauce.
Pair the bread with the three dishes featured in the $7 veggie sampler: Cauliflower and potatoes in a rich tomato sauce, steamed garlic spinach, and yellow split peas. The split peas have the consistency of baby food, but the mild flavor complements the other sides nicely.
Be sure to finish your meal with baklava. The dough is the ideal combination of flaky and chewy to encase the gritty and gooey sweet nut filling. Served with cardamom-scented ice cream, your sweet tooth will thank you for it.
This article appeared in the April 9, 2015 issue of the Hatchet.