Published January 18, 2019 in Warp & Woof
A Neighborhood Restaurant for Afghan Comfort Food
Panjshir, a Falls Church eatery since 1985, moved to a new strip mall on the other side of the Little City in 2016. It’s now located even closer to my North Arlington neighborhood. And, neighborhood restaurant it is. The Washington Post reviewer in 2013 included it in a series of “$20 diners.” My wife and I find it perfect for an impromptu winter outing when we don’t want to cook! Like this New Year’s Eve.
We generally don’t make plans for NYE celebration, preferring to stay in and recuperate from the hectic Christmas holiday. But, part of that recuperation can be dinner out at a nearby comfortable restaurant. The first one that comes to mind for such a spontaneous decision is Panjshir. No reservations needed.
It’s now housed on E. Fairfax Street between E. Broad and S. Washington Streets, in a little strip mall next door to the Audacious Aleworks Brewery and Pro Bike FC bike shop. Whenever I’ve been there, the bike shop is closed, and the brewery is more crowded than Panjshir!
Unlike its dimly lit previous location on W. Broad, near the West Falls Church metro station, this new place is much brighter, appealing to my wife, who always wants to see what she’s eating. The décor is similar, with some traditional Afghan tribal accoutrements, including swords, hanging on the walls. There is now a picturesque view out the plate glass window in front – of the parking lot (so you can keep track of your car?). For an inexpensive neighborhood eatery, it’s fine. We wouldn’t go for atmospherics, anyway.
The restaurant’s name came from its original owner, Aziz Niazy, who opened it in 1985. The Panjshir Valleyhad recently been in the news as the scene of the climactic battle where Ahmad Massoud and the Northern Alliance finally drove the Soviet Army from the country. And, in the same Panjshir Valley a decade or so later, Massoud also successfully fought off the Taliban – a heroic past for the region. However. the cuisine on the menu is more characteristic of Kabul, about 90 miles Southwest of the Valley. Aziz Niazy eventually retired, turning over management of the restaurant to his son, Esmat. Daughter Maria runs the kitchen and has mentored a young Honduran woman as her sous chef.
While the menu has a variety of traditional Afghan dishesand appetizers, including much vegetarian fare, we always order our same favorites. We start with Sambosay Goshti, fried meat pastries, not unlike Lebanese Sambousek, and Aushak, a very Afghan dumpling filled with scallions and topped with seasoned yogurt, mint, and ground beef. A spicy cilantro chutney makes a perfect dip for both appetizers. Entrée for my wife and I will always be the Afghan national dish – Quabili Palow. It is a seasoned rice plate with lamb, topped with carrot strips, almonds and raisins. Delicious, and filling. When we feel relaxed enough for dessert, as we did on New Year’s Eve, it will be the exquisite Gosh-e-feel(or “elephant ear”), a sugary fried pastry in the shape of the elephant’s ear, and cardamon tea. Afghan cuisine, as one might expect from the geography, is notably lacking in seafood! Even freshwater fish are missing from the menu.
Part of the ambience of any restaurant is the sound. Crowded restaurants are often too noisy to have a conversation across a table, but Panjshir has never been that crowded when we’ve been there. It’s always easy to have a quiet, private conversation. The recorded music is not authentic Afghan, but a continuous loop of classical Spanish guitar. It seems to fit very nicely with the high overall relaxation quotient that draws us back to the place. The volume is perfect. We have never been disappointed by the food, the attentive service, or the casual atmosphere. Panjshir is truly an oasis of Afghan comfort food only slightly off the beaten track of the inner NoVa neighborhoods.