Address: 3098 Carling Ave, Unit 8, Ottawa
Hours: 11:45am – 9:30pm (Tue – Sun); closed Monday (hours may vary during/after pandemic)
After reading good things about Mezbaan Restaurant in the Ottawa Citizen’s review, as well as on social media, I added them to my never-ending list of restaurants to try. I was finally able to make my first visit there earlier this year while out for an adventure at the nearby Britannia Conservation Area.
At the time, Mezbaan was the third Afghan restaurant I’d been to, following Afghani Kabob Express and Ariana Kabab House, as I continue to work my way through the wealth of Afghani restaurants that Ottawa has to offer.
As with its peers, the menu at Mezbaan reflects Afghanistan’s geography and history as a nexus of Central Asia, with heavy influences from both Iranian and Indian cuisines. I had tried mantu, beef or lamb dumplings, once before, so I had to give Mezbaan’s ($14.99 for 12) a try. Rounding out our meal, the vaziri kabob plate ($19.99) seemed like a great way to try out multiple kabobs, as it comes with one skewer each of shami and chicken breast/leg.
After we picked up our order, we made the short drive to the Britannia Beach parking lot to have our meal. Ah, good ol’ pre-vaccination pandemic life. I do not miss you.
I’m a big fan of any kind of dumplings, so we dug into the mantu right away. Unlike the East Asian dumplings that I’m most familiar with, Afghan mantu are heavily sauced in yogurt and tomato sauces, and Mezbaan adds some yellow lentils to the mix as well.
No matter what your dumpling preferences are, it’s impossible to deny how good these were. The wrappers were pliable, but neither falling apart nor tough. The beef and veggie filling was moist and tender, with a rich, earthy flavour. The light acidity of the sauces made for a pleasant contrast, and a sprinkling of mint took this a step further. My wife, a mantu first-timer, said this was one of the best dishes that she had in months from anywhere!
The vaziri kabob plate was equally well-executed, if not quite as impressive as the mantu. Both the ground beef shami and the chicken breast kabob were expertly cooked, and each had a nice touch of char from the grill. Their accompanying carbs were enjoyable, with a large portion of pilaf, and a hefty piece of naan. The naan, in the typical Afghan fashion, was lightly browned and crisp on the exterior, with a soft and supple crumb.
Visita número dos
Given its distance from my apartment, it was sadly several months before I made it back, but on the upside, I was all vaxxed up and Mezbaan was once again open for indoor dining.
I ordered generously considering I was eating solo, but I expected to be taking more than a little bit of leftovers home. The Qabuli Uzbeki ($17.99) looked to be a hearty a meal unto itself with a lamb shank and a mixture of rice, raisins and julienned carrot. I’ve also enjoyed bolani ($7.99), naan stuffed with seasoned potatoes, previously, so that was an easy call as well. And what kind of husband would I be if I didn’t bring an order of mantu home to my wife? One that sleeps on the couch, that’s what.
The restaurant was only half-full when I arrived at around 1pm, so my food came out quickly and it was quite the sight to behold. The Qabuli Uzbeki was an absolute mountain of food, and I feel like this is one of the benefits of eating in – you can always go higher on a plate, but takeout containers have a much more finite capacity.
Portion sizes aren’t worth much to me if the food isn’t very good, but it only took a couple bites to know that wasn’t going to be a concern. The lamb was fall-off-the-bone tender, but wasn’t overcooked or dry, and a restrained touch with the seasoning let the flavour of the meat shine. The rice was toothsome and buttery, with a plentiful dose of raisins and carrot adding a subtle layer of sweetness, and mix of textures, to the dish.
It’s interesting seeing how bolani can vary from restaurant to restaurant, but it makes sense given what a blank canvas potato-stuffed-bread is. Elsewhere that I’ve had it, it has been the spiciest dish that I had at the restaurant, but at Mezbaan, it had a more vegetal flavour with its green onions and herbs taking centre stage, with no hint of fiery spice.
I also must admit a little bit of pride, as my server (possibly one of the owners) commented that the three dishes I ordered were their most authentic Afghan dishes.
With food that wows as both takeout and dine-in, Mezbaan Restaurant is not just a stellar example of excellent Afghan cuisine, but good food in general.