Pakistani food is one of L.A.'s under-represented cuisines; the most notable restaurants serving it sit a few miles apart from each other on Inglewood Avenue in Hawthorne and Lawndale. In the San Fernando Valley, however, there are another two options: Red Chili Halal in Northridge and Tawakal Halal Tandoori in Chatsworth.
Pakistani food is diverse and varies based on the region where it originated. It's also much more meat-oriented than regional cuisines from neighboring India, and it's usually spicier than Punjabi-style food. You’ll see Indian dishes you’re likely familiar with on the menu, including a limited range of vegetable ones, but it’s the Pakistani items you should be having.
The de facto national dish of Pakistan is nihari, a spicy curry made from beef shanks. Spend a short time in either of these SFV restaurants and you’ll inevitably see an order of it come out of the kitchen. It arrives in a bowl with large chunks of beef and a scarlet sheen of oil on top.
At both restaurants, you can also get paya, a curry made from goat, lamb or cow hooves (at Tawakal it comes with goat or lamb and at Red Chili with beef). Haleem — a slow-simmered stew of beef, wheat, lentils and spices — has a thick consistency perfect for scooping up with nan.
Of the two restaurants, Red Chili has the larger menu, including daal gosht, (goat with lentils), goat nihari (made with goat instead of beef), maghaz masala (fried brain curry) and maghaz nihari (a version of nihari using brain). Tawakal’s menu is compact, just 17 items, but that includes a Pakistani dish we haven’t seen anywhere else: kata-kuts. Chopped brain and kidney are seasoned with herbs and tossed with tomatoes and spices. The name is derived from the sound knives make when chopping the offal on the griddle.
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If brains and offal don't sound appealing, there are more approachable kebabs and biryanis available, including lamb biryani at both restaurants and goat biryani at Red Chili. Red Chili also has a wide variety of kebabs, including a bun kebab, which, unsurprisingly, is served on a bun. For another safe (but delicious) option, order the fried chicken, lahori charga, which is marinated overnight in yogurt and spices then fried.
Red Chili Halal Restaurant: 18108 Parthenia St., Northridge, CA 91325; (818) 775-0733.
Tawakal Halal Tandoori Restaurant: 21617 Devonshire St., Chatsworth, CA 91311; (818) 882-0605.