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Helmand Palace

Afghan Cuisine Comes to Russian Hill

After Telegraph Hill’s February 2007 landslide closed Helmand on Broadway, the 16-year-old restaurant relocated to Russian Hill and took over the Yaya Cuisine space on Van Ness and Green. While most foodies flocked to the North Beach Helmand for its $10 lunch buffet, Helmand Palace now serves dinner exclusively. Even so, most -- if not all -- buffet items are available on the extensive menu.

Helmand Palace is decidedly not San Francisco-trendy; the restaurant is filled with locals and tourists drawn to an off-the-beaten-path gem. There’s a bar at the front of the restaurant that’s empty more often than not, but once you’re in the busy main dining area, the atmosphere is homey and gives off a family-owned vibe. As a side note, and to lend another layer of authenticity, one of the partners in the restaurant (there’s another location in Cambridge) is Mahmood Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai.

Inside the dining room, rich, lapis-colored chairs and deep-red Afghan rugs create a palatial atmosphere that is only enhanced by the authentic Afghan cuisine. No meal is complete without the sweet pumpkin kaddo appetizer or side ($5.50) -- baby pumpkin that’s fried first then baked. The vegetarian version is topped with a yogurt garlic sauce; otherwise, it’s topped with ground beef. Another signature dish is aushak ($5.95 side, $11.50 entree), which is ravioli filled with leeks and scallions, served over a yogurt, garlic and mint sauce and topped with split peas and carrots or ground beef.

Lamb is the signature protein here, and is featured in the chowpan ($21.95) -- a grilled half-rack of lamb served with sautéed eggplant -- and the dwopiaza ($14.95), which is a grilled leg of lamb sautéed with split peas and onions. Both entrees come with pallow (rice that’s boiled, seasoned with cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin, then baked).

We sampled a few non-lamb meat dishes, including the mourgh kabab ($11.95), generous chunks of marinated and grilled chicken breast served with rice, grilled onions and peppers, and sautéed spinach. The qourmay ma-he ($15.95), a fresh fish of the day is sautéed with tomatoes, potatoes, and red peppers, and it was as flavorful as it was bountiful.

Turkish coffee that’s as thick as mud is another standout offering at Helmand Palace that you shouldn’t miss (unless you’re planning on going to sleep right after dinner). And a sweet, spicy baklava will round out your meal nicely.

So far, the Van Ness locale is as popular as the original Broadway spot; but, according to co- owner, Daud Zaheer, if the building on Broadway gets repaired and the timing is right, they just might reopen for the original Helmand, which means two places to satisfy your sweet pumpkin kaddo fix.

Afghan
Russian Hill
$$

No reservations necessary.