I’ve been to the Redwood Road strip mall where Zabiha Grill is located dozens of times. But it was always to eat at Pho Hoa, or to shop at the Asian market adjacent to it. For some reason, I’d never noticed Zabiha Grill, nor the halal market next door. Recently though, I was perusing the restaurant options available in the City Weekly Store and stumbled upon discounts for dining at Zabiha Grill, so I thought I’d check it out.
Now, discount dining is always a good thing. However, you’ll find the menu prices so reasonable at Zabiha Grill that you’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery, discount coupons or not. Appetizers are all $5 or less, and most entrees—which include a choice of naan or basmati rice—run $6 to $10. You can enjoy a very satisfying meal for two for a single Jackson.
Zabiha Grill and its adjacent market are both halal, meaning that they operate under the strict dietary laws of Islam. The word halal refers, actually, to everything allowable under Islamic laws and customs, not just culinary practices. Halal simply means that which is lawful or permissible; the opposite—practices that are not permissible—is haraam. Now, in the next paragraph, I’m going to go into some detail as to what halal culinary customs entail, particularly with regard to the preparation of meat. If you’re squeamish, I recommend skipping that paragraph. For some, it’ll be TMI.
The word zabiha, for which the restaurant under consideration is named, is an Arabic term for the Islamic method of slaughtering animals. Muslims don’t eat pork, so zabiha usually references chickens, cows, lamb, mutton and goats. The zabiha method of slaughtering animals is said to be one of respect and compassion. A swift, deep cut with a very sharp knife into the jugular vein quickly kills the animal. According to halal custom, the blood is completely drained from the animal after zabiha, and only thereafter may the meat be butchered. Zabiha Grill serves halal meats and poultry that are butchered according to Islamic custom at the Zabiha market. The market is open to the public, and you can purchase halal meats along with a variety of imported Indian spices, legumes, curries, ghee and much more.
Before opening Zabiha Grill, owner Farukh Qazi is said to have cooked for the likes of Dudley Moore, George Michael, Dolly Parton and other celebrities. You wouldn’t really know it from the look of Zabiha Grill, which is far from opulent. But it’s comfortable. The owners are very helpful and friendly to customers, many of whom seem to be regulars. One cautionary tip, however: Skip the $8.99 lunch buffet. It’s fairly skimpy, and with Zabiha Grill’s low prices, you’re better off ordering from the regular menu. And your food will be prepared fresh, not self-served from a chafing dish.
The cuisine served at Zabiha Grill is mostly Northern Indian and Pakistani: biryani, curries and the restaurant’s specialty, tandoori dishes. Appetizers worth investigating include the vegetable samosa ($3)—nicely spiced peas and potatoes deep-fried in housemade pastry dough—and aloo chaat ($4), which is crispy lentil wafers topped with chili-spiked garbanzos and potato, served with seasoned yogurt (which helps to tame the spiciness) and chutney.
You don’t usually find burgers at Indian restaurants, but Zabiha Grill has ’em. There’s a lamb burger ($7), a beef burger ($7) and—somewhat unusual—a chicken tikka masala burger ($7): ground chicken seasoned with tikka masala spices such as cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic and garam masala, served with housemade fries.
Fair warning: Much of the food at Zabiha Grill is heavily spiced. If you ask for a dish such as chicken tikka masala “fairly hot,” as I did, it’ll probably be hotter than you bargained for. That’s fine with me, because I have an iron stomach, but the chicken tikka biryani ($8) I ordered was the most incendiary biryani I’ve ever eaten. It was also, unfortunately, a little bitter, perhaps from a tad too much coriander.
What Zabiha Grill does best is tandoori cooking. The Indian flatbreads such as naan ($1.25), roti ($1.25) and paratha ($1.50) are excellent, with beautifully charred bubbles from being slapped against the side of a very hot tandoor oven. The breads are a perfect marriage of pillow-like softness and warm, crispy goodness. Definitely give the keema naan ($4) a try. It’s teardrop-shaped housemade naan stuffed with mildly spiced ground beef.
I recommend ordering a bowl of daal makhani ($6), a classic Punjabi dish of tender lentils in a rich sauce of onion, tomato, garlic, fresh ginger and spices. It’s the perfect accompaniment to Zabiha Grill’s outstanding tandoori chicken ($9 half/$13 whole), which is served with rice or naan. I’ve never had better tandoori chicken anywhere. So often it’s bland and dry, but not here. The boneless chicken—charred in spots from the tandoor—is marinated in yogurt, garlic, ginger and spices, seasoned more thoroughly than the tandoori chicken I normally encounter. At Zabiha Grill, it’s perfectly cooked, tender, juicy and absolutely delicious.
Another winning dish is the beef seekh kebab ($9). I had expected grilled chunks of beef, but this was much better. The seekh kebab is actually ground beef that is first marinated in yogurt with ginger, garlic and spices, then formed into thumb-size sausages. They’re grilled and served with naan or rice (order the naan to form little sausage wraps). Like some of the other dishes I tried at Zabiha Grill, the seekh kebabs were more fiery than I expected. But hey: No pain, no gain, right?
3460 S. Redwood Road