A Taste of Pakistan in San Francisco

by Nancy Bestor

Why do I always have such longings for ethnic food? When traveling in any big city, we tend to choose eateries by the following maxim – the more exotic, the better. Italian? Nah. Chinese? No thanks. Mexican? Sure I like great tacos, but if I can choose Indian, Lebanese or Thai, Mexican will lose out. Perhaps as I get older my palate craves the unusual. Maybe living away from a big city for 17 years makes me yearn for things I can’t easily get in Ashland. Whatever the reason, in our travels to metropolitan areas, every stop on our itinerary revolves around our next meal, and our recent visit to San Francisco was no exception.

My current favorite West Coast ethnic eatery has to be Shalimar in San Francisco. Located in the ever-so-delightful Tenderloin district, Shalimar is Indian/Pakistani eating at its best. You won’t find tablecloths, fancy menus or any semblance of an attempt to create an “atmosphere” at Shalimar. What you will find is absolutely outstanding Indian and Pakistani food. My personal favorite on the menu is Saag Gosht, a lamb and spinach dish that Shalimar says is the “favorite dish of the Punjabi farmer.” Then again, maybe my top dish is Murghi Korma Shahi, a delicious chicken curry. Or it could even be Bengen Bhujia, eggplant cooked with onion and tomato. All I know is, on our most recent visit I ate as fast as I could in an effort to get my fair share. Our table was nearly silent as my dining companions wolfed down Shalimar’s fabulous fare. The Naan bread and Tandoori Chicken, two things I like very much, but am not often willing to fill my stomach with when there is more spicy and exotic food to be had, are the best I’ve ever tasted. I’m salivating while I write…..

Shalimar does not serve alcohol, but since Indian food really tastes best when coupled with a beer, feel free to bring your own, as Shalimar does not mind. You can buy a beer or two at the market on the corner and chances are the owner will know right where you’re headed. Shalimar is light on the pocketbook too. A table of four can eat very well for $50.

Full disclosure: Shalimar is by no means a fancy restaurant. One does not dine there for the atmosphere. And the Tenderloin district is not one of San Francisco’s nicest. While I have always felt safe, a fair number of the city’s homeless do hang out in the area. There is no doubt however, that the amazing food is well worth the minor inconvenience. A sure sign to me of an ethnic restaurant’s authenticity is the other people eating in the locale. Shalimar is always full, and our table has almost always been the only non-Indian or Pakistani table in the house. If you like authentic Indian/Pakistani food and you’re in San Francisco, run, don’t walk, to Shalimar. And bring me an order of Tandoori Chicken while you’re at it.

Shalimar: www.shalimarsf.com, 532 Jones Street, open noon-midnight.