If you're pressed for time but looking for a sit-down lunch, Maiwand Kabob in Columbia is worth a look — provided you're in the neighborhood. The Afghan restaurant, which has other locations in Arundel Mills and Linthicum, is across the parking lot from the Safeway that anchors Harper's Choice Village Center. It's set up to serve people in a hurry. The setting and service are utilitarian and casual, but Maiwand's kitchen offers an exotic alternative to run-of-the-mill chains and taverns.
12:45 We step into Maiwand just as another couple takes the last "agreeable table," that is, one that's away from the most trafficked aisle, where your head, shoulders and chair is unlikely to make contact with passing customers. It has tight seating for about 30.
12:50 I tick off our selections to a young woman behind the counter while my dining companion secures a table. As I take my seat, I notice a sign that assures us the food is halal, adhering to Islamic dietary practices. I glance around the room and wonder if that's the attraction: Almost 1 p.m., and the dining room is nearly packed.
12:59 Rather than our having to return to the counter for our order, one of the counter staff brings our bolanis — rectangular, fried pastry shells, one stuffed with a spiced mashed potato-and-pea blend, the other with chopped scallions ($4 a pair). The bolanis, along with many Maiwand dishes, are served with a mint and garlic yogurt sauce that favors the garlic more than the mint. The light-green sauce is mildly zingy with a consistency closer to a cream soup than yogurt. A new favorite condiment.
The bolani pastry is good by itself, chewy with the light tang of fresh bread and a patina of oil at the corners. The pale-yellow, lightly seasoned potato-pea filling plays well with the sauce. The chopped scallion filling, dominated by green stalks, is simple and light, and pairs well with the bread.
1:00 A minute after the bolanis are set before us, six small filo-wrapped samosas filled with the same potato mixture ($4) arrive. The difference is the lighter, toasty texture of the pastry. Again the sauce, and again happiness.
As you might guess, all these carbs are filling. After half a bolani and a couple samosas each, we realize these two appetizers would make a substantial lunch for two — not bad for eight bucks.
1:11 A staffer brings our entrees and a third plate with a couple 8- or 9-inch rounds of tandoor bread.
The special of the day is lamb curry ($8), consisting of butter-tender chunks of meat in a mild brown sauce over rice. If you're turned off by high-heat peppery dishes, our samples suggest you're safe at Maiwand. Its spices skew modest and the heat hovers in the lower registers, but there's nothing blah about it — especially with the mint-garlic sauce at hand. The salads served with each of our entrees are unremarkable but fresh and offer a welcome coolness to the starch- and carb-heavy starters and entrees.
My favorite is Maiwand's Chicken Tikka Kabob. For $9 they serve (along with salad and rice) two KFC-size, tandoori-orange chicken thighs and two drumsticks. If they lack heft, they make up for it in taste: tender, juicy dark meat under a thin tandoori crust with a hint of vinegary sharpness. Can I get a bucket of this stuff?
1:28 We finish in a little under 45 minutes and walk out with carryout containers that include 11/2 rounds of tandoori bread. I fell for Maiwand's bread, which is a bit lighter than the naan I'm used to and also love. I'd order extra again and take it home to enjoy with cheese and wine.
Maiwand's dining room is still filled when we leave. Another couple is waiting for us to go so they can sit. I know if I worked in the nearby Mall in Columbia or the hospital or any of the offices surrounding Harper's Choice Village Center, Maiwand would be a regular stop — more for carryout than dine-in. Maiwand serves up good food at attractive prices. Apparently, it's no secret to diners around here.
Dining time: 43 minutes
Where: 5467 Harpers Farm Road, Columbia
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-9:30 p.m. Sunday
Lunch entrees: $9-$14 (with lots of generous starters at $4)
[Key: ✭✭✭✭ Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: Poor]