There aren’t many restaurants around L.A. that focus on Pakistani cuisine. Most of the relatively few that do are clustered near the 405. Indeed, three of the better-known Pakistani places, including the relocated Zam Zam Market, are along a 1.5-mile stretch of Inglewood Avenue through Hawthorne and Lawndale. Another three are scattered around the San Fernando Valley. And if you're looking for one of the largest Pakistani menus, you’ll need to head to a strip mall in Northridge, where you'll find Red Chili Halal Restaurant.
While the food of Pakistan shares some common traits with its neighbor, India, there are significant differences. Most of the difference can be traced to the fact that Pakistan is predominantly Muslim. This means that Pakistani cuisine is very meat-centric, with the meat of choice being beef. It also means food and drink adhere to halal preparation and dietary standards.
One of the staple Pakistani dishes you’ll find at Red Chili is nihari. Considered the national dish of Pakistan, nihari is slow-cooked beef shanks in a spicy, curry gravy. There are times when nearly every table will have an order of nihari atop it. Red Chili also offers nihari using goat and maghaz nihari, a version using beef brains. Another specialty is maghaz masala, stir-fried beef brains in a curry gravy.
If you’re not into brains, there are still plenty of other options. Long-simmered curry stews also are available: paya, a curry stew often made from lamb or goat hooves but here made using cow trotters/hooves, and haleem, a thick stew of beef, grain and lentils that seems made to go with naan bread.
Pakistan is a diverse country that features regional variations on dishes. One regional favorite at Red Chili is Lahori chargha. Originating in the city of Lahore, the dish is Pakistan’s version of fried chicken. Spices and yogurt are used as a marinade on the chicken, which is then fried. Red Chili serves it either as a whole or half bird.
The similarities between Pakistani and Indian cuisines are most readily apparent in the veggie selections, many of which will be familiar from Indian restaurants. Perhaps the most notable veggie item is an eggplant dish, baingan bharta, which has a smoky quality along with a strong, spicy note.
About the spiciness, be forewarned: These dishes often pack a strong, peppery kick that isn't toned down, for which those seeking the real deal are thankful.
The menu also features a wide selection of kebabs, including a Karachi-style bun kebab, which is — as you might expect — a meat patty served on a bun. There are biryanis featuring goat, lamb or beef and a range of karahi dishes, so named for the woklike cooking utensil the curries are prepared in.
A highlight among the items in the lamb and goat portion of the menu is daal gosht, goat with lentils. And on Sundays and weekend brunches, halwa poori is available. Another dish shared with neighboring portions of India, halwa poori is a traditional breakfast of chickpea and potato curry, served along with a sweet and a fried bread.
Red Chili Halal Restaurant, 18108 Parthenia St., Northridge; (818) 775-0733, redchillinorthridge.com.