Helmand

>>  Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Helmand
One thing I love about living in Cambridge is the wide diversity of ethnic restaurants you can finding within a few mile radius. Stand in the middle of Central Square, and you can probably walk less than 15 minutes to enjoy Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Puerto Rican, North African, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, or Korean cuisine - not to mention all the excellent pubs, bakeries, and sandwich shops.

Whenever friends and family come to Cambridge, we love taking them to Helmand for Afghan food, partly because the food's fantastic there (of course), but also partly because it's so unique. Most people haven't tried Afghan food before, and lucky for us, Helmand does an excellent job of making it. Better yet, it's reasonably priced and not too far away.
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One of the best things at Helmand is actually the free bread that you get at the beginning of the meal.
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There's usually a guy in the middle of the restaurant continuously hand kneading and baking the bread, so it's always super fresh.

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It's fired up briefly in this huge stone oven right in the middle of the restaurant.
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It comes with three dipping sauces - red pepper (spicy!), cilantro, and yogurt. My favorite is the cilantro, and I like mixing it with the yogurt sauce to cream it up a bit.
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I frequently get the Shor Nakhod ($6.95), which is a simple yet filling salad of potatoes and chick peas on a bed of mixed greens served with cilantro vinaigrette dressing.
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Bryan almost always gets the Chowpan ($22.50),  which is a half rack of lamb marinated, grilled and served on a bed of afghan bread with sauteed eggplant and pallow rice.
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Qabelee ($17.95) Pallow (Afghan-style rice) baked with chunks of lamb tenderloin, raisins and glazed julienne of carrots.
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The Mantwo ($14.95) is like the Afghan version of a ravioli or dumpling. It's a homemade pastry shell filled with onions and beef served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas, and beef sauce.
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The Kaddo ($7.50) is something I order every single time and one of my favorite items at the restaurant. It's a pan fried baked baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar & served on a yogurt garlic sauce topped with ground beef sauce. I love how the savory beef sauce complements the sweetness of the pumpkin.
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Shorwa ($6.95) Lamb and fresh vegetable soup
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Lamb Lawand ($18.95) Leg of lamb sauteed with onion, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, fresh cilantro, yogurt and spices served with sauteed spinach and challow rice.

Things to Know
This place is super popular and almost always gets completely booked out on weekend nights. Don't be surprised if you show up on a Friday or Saturday and they just turn you away because they are fully booked for the night. I typically try to call right at 4pm (when they open) to get a same day reservation.

The house red wine is very reasonably priced and tastes good. I think it's something like $16 or so for a whole carafe, which is hard to beat!

The menu is quite vegetarian-friendly. In fact, they even have a separate vegetarian menu that offers vegetarian versions of several of their items (for example, you can get the sweet pumpkin without the meat sauce on top).    The menu's a bit lamb heavy, but there are several chicken, beef, fish and vegetarian dishes to keep anyone happy.

Interesting facts
The Helmand is actually owned by Mahmood Karzai, brother of the current Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Their sister, Fawzia, is the general manager of the Cambridge Helmand (there are others in Baltimore and San Francisco, all owned by the same family).

My thoughts
I really like this place. The combination of the reasonable prices, wonderful ambiance, good service, and fantastic food already makes it a perfect place to spend any evening. The fact that the cuisine is unique and that it's close to my house bumps it into a top choice for taking out-of-town guests.

I highly recommend coming here! Seriously, for the bread alone it's worth it!
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Helmand
143 1st St
Cambridge, MA 02142
Helmand on Urbanspoon

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