With the spring debut of Kite Runner Café, chef and owner Homayon Karimy has channeled his 15 years of restaurant experience into opening his own eatery in the Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington, serving a mix of Afghan, Indian, and Lebanese food with fast-casual convenience.
The restaurant’s menu may be inspired by three types of cuisine, but it’s covered in rather short space. The menu is only 28 dishes long, including appetizers, soups, salads, sides, entrées, and desserts. One can view the entire menu from a sign behind the counter when placing an order, then take a seat at the bar or one of a handful of café tables and wait for the food to be brought out.
Three appetizers are available, all served cold and none costing more than $4. The hummus ($3.99) offers chickpeas blended with tahini, garlic, and lemon juice for a rich and creamy start to the meal. Tandoori naan is served alongside the hummus, to scoop up the smooth dip, and is also paired with all the restaurant’s entrées. When the large, flat bread, bubbled and charred from tandoor cooking is brought to the table, the mouthwatering scent of the warm naan wafts up from its unassuming plastic tray. It’s a chewy, malleable bread which wraps easily around bits of meat and vegetable and whose distinctly yeasty taste is never lost, even when paired with spicy treats.
Entrées include vegetable curries (which double as side dishes), naan-wrapped sandwiches, and kabobs, but the karahi dishes set this restaurant apart from other local quick-eats kabob spots. The menu warns that this dish, a specialty of Pakistan and India, can take 20 or so minutes to cook, but the karahi is well worth the wait. Here, the diner’s choice of chicken ($11.99) or lamb ($13.99) is served in a chunky gravy of fresh tomatoes, seasoned with garlic and ginger, the bright red sauce sprinkled with green cilantro. The chunks of meat are tender, and the sauce has the right amount of heat, one that grows with every taste, doesn’t interrupt the flavor of the dish, and encourages taking another bite.
The kabob platters – which range in price from the one-skewer chicken plate at $10.99 to the mixed grill of minced beef, lamb, and chicken skewers for $19.99 – are a big bargain. Each platter is focused on its serving of protein, a few chunks of tender, char-grilled meat, but three side dishes are tacked on to make for a mighty meal. Not only do diners get naan and rice (either white basmati rice or a seasoned variety with carrots and dried fruit), but they also get a hearty scoop of a side dish. Soft, seasoned chickpeas; sautéed pumpkin and butternut squash, whose sweetness is balanced by a drizzle of tangy yogurt sauce; an earthy blend of cooked spinach and herbs; and a mash of seasoned sautéed eggplant are some of the side dish options.
The restaurant’s sandwiches are lighter fare. Lamb and chicken kabobs are rolled up in the naan to make sandwiches, and so too are pieces of deep-fried falafel. The falafel sandwich costs a mere $6.99. The herb-seasoned falafel is soft within the sandwich, save for a few crackling bites from its fried edges. Along with the falafel, the sandwich is filled with vegetables and served with tahini, yogurt sauce, and/or hot sauce to the diner’s liking.
The Kite Runner Café manages to cover a lot of culinary ground, and not just through its many cuisine influences. One can grab a soup and salad or a sandwich for lunch and spend less than $10, or settle in for a full meal of hummus, kabobs, curry side dishes, and baklawa dessert. Such versatility is appreciated, and makes it that much easier to find a reason to visit and enjoy Kite Runner Café’s cuisine.
Kite Runner Café is located at 3800 Lee Highway, Arlington. For more information, call 703-566-9236 or visit kiterunnercafe.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.