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  • Writer's pictureThe Bone Guys

Khan Saab Electrifies Orange County with Its Pakistani, Indian and Afghan Cuisine

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

* now open for outdoor dining!

We can't think of a single other South Asian restaurant in Southern California that is quite like Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen.

The 5 month-old downtown Fullerton restaurant is 100% Halal and has a completely alcohol-free bar serving liquor-less negronis and mojitos alongside 0.0%-ABV IPAs and stouts.

It concentrates on Pakistani, Afghani and Indian dishes with the same heat-forward, spice-heavy reverence that chef Kris Yenbamroong pays to Northern Thai cooking at Night Market; Tiantian Qiu to Sichuan cuisine at Hip Hot, and

Bryant Ng to Southeast Asian food at Cassia.

The place makes everything from scratch, sources its meats and produce meticulously, and doesn't cook for mass appeal so much as the people who grew up on the same recipes, without amends. With the sort of thoughtful presentation that veers in the direction of the same whimsical strains one might expect at the Bazaar or Barton G.

Khan Saab—meaning "Mr. Khan"— is the passion project of chef of Imran Ali Mookhi, a veteran of multiple Michelin-starred kitchens and a critical player at Tamarind of London in Newport, as well as a founding chef-owner of Tumbi in Santa Monica and Mint in Laguna Hills.

With the opening of Khan Saab, the 37-year-old chef, who was raised in Karachi before moving to the U.S. at 17 for a degree in computer science, fulfills a long-desired dream.

"In Chicago and New York, there are great Halal restaurants offering more upscale and exciting dining," he says. "We want to bring this experience to Los Angeles and Orange County."

The first thing you'll encounter when coming to Khan Saab is a host stand fashioned from a portable tandoor oven, the wall behind it painted with a black-and-grey mural of a vintage movie poster by an artist named Naeem. Exposed brick and two huge walls of windows bookend the rest of the wide space.

We began our own dinner with the "Nigroni," an alcohol-free iteration of the classic cocktail made with the booze-less spirit Seedlip. While nailing the interchange of citrus and sweetness, the drink is something delightfully different, packed with the flavors of rosewater and cardamom and bereft of its signature bitterness. Not only could we sip on them all night, but would do so guilt-free, our ability to get behind the wheel or form a sentence unimpeded.

We also nursed a 0%-ABV IPA, made in conjunction with Hairless Dog Brewing in Minneapolis. It may not get drinkers to trade in their preferred IPAs, but the hop flavors were prominent and the "near-beer" not half bad.

The first dish we ordered was the chaat (or snack) known as bhel puri, a colorful scatter of puffed rice boldly layered in black and Himalayan salts and same the spices used for making achaar, the Indian pickles we happen to be obsessed with. Its nearly mouth-puckering tang was tamed by bursts of pomegranate seeds, creating a wonderful landscape of crispy, crunchy textures with a duel between sweet-and-tart.

Next came a miniature street cart holding a riff on India's ubiquitous working man's sandwich, vada pav, which is essentially to the subcontinent what the taco is to Mexico.

Only this version was for meat-lovers, served with a keema made from spiced ground Australian Wagyu on a soft bun that bridges the distance between a Parker Roll and brioche. The bread was dusted in "gunpowder," the kitchen's own blend crafted of garbanzo beans, chana daal and Aleppo chile. Known as the "Sloppy Khan," it's been known to sell out, making sort of an early signature dish.

After savoring tangy hits of goat cheese stuffed inside the buttery flatbread known as kulcha, we proceeded to our main courses. Khan Saab predominately uses Aussie Wagyu for its beef, tempting us to try straightforward steaks like the wood-fired bone-in tomahawk or the grilled NY steak.

Not daring stray from the sub-Himalayan road we'd embarked on, however, we were instead bowled over by the smoked beef kabob, in which ultra tender, thickly rubbed and crisp-crusted slices of top sirloin arrived under a glass dome holding in smoke like it was Willie Nelson crossing the Canadian border.

This top sirloin appeared again in a classic of Indian cuisine that stretches back to the age of the Mughals: nihari. A breakfast curry usually based on stewed shank (typically mutton, beef, goat or lamb, but sometimes encompassing other meats), this adaptation is a deeply rich, near-black broth of buttery, spice-laden gravy. The sizable chunks of tender beef can be shredded apart with a spoon, its pronounced heat creeping up on you with every sauce-coated bite.

There are dishes on Khan Saab's menu that can take up to 30 minutes to prepare. Before knowing just how full we'd be, we'd ordered one. But there were no regrets when a large steel pan of dum biryani hit the table. A thick sheet of soft naan stretched over this staple of the Muslim world, trapping the spice-choked steam within this heavenly mixture of rice and meat. We wouldn't be surprised if this technique was yet another thing the British stole from the subcontinent, with its slight resemblance to beef Wellington.

It's hard not to detail the potency and care of Khan Saab's food without referencing the flaws of so many local Indian and Pakistani restaurants, where the curries can be acceptable, yet the meats unspectacular, and the actual vegetables an overcooked afterthought.

Khan Saab's paneer palak is a good example of its steady thoughtfulness. Not only is the slightly sweet, milk-tinged paneer prepared in house then hung in the kitchen to drain for 12 hours, the spinach itself stands out in a superlative way. You taste every fiber of its funky vegetal essence, the spinach flavor not congealing into mere anonymity as so many do. It is cleverly spiked with long strands of fresh ginger, too.

We've almost certainly said enough. We definitely ate enough.

But then came dessert. There were thin-shelled samosas filled with chocolate holding up a scoop of chocolate-vanilla gelato. And great galub jammun in a thick crescent smear of Nutella.

Our hands-down favorite was the beautiful, bright "double ka tukda," a Hyderabad-born sweet of crumble-coated white bread pudding wrapped in edible silver, standing in a shallow pool of sun-colored cream under a shower of orange petals and almond slices.

We finished the meal up with true chai served on the same mini-carts we'd seen previously. A mock chai-wallah poured shot-sized amounts at arm's length from a pitcher into our tiny mugs. If we hadn't been so devastatingly full, we would have lingered for hours until the entire pitcher was poured.

We're feeling optimistic for the future of South Asian cuisine in L.A. due to the emergence of chefs like Moohki. From his own menu at Tumbi to the guys at Badmaash, there seems to be a small movement brewing of self-aware restaurateurs with Pakistani and/or Indian roots who understand how to represent their food in fresh and unique ways without sacrificing authentic flavors.

Whether a full wave of such menus manifests or not, we're overjoyed to have Khan Saab, a bright gem of Pakistani, Indian and Afghani recipes, open in Fullerton. And we can't wait to return for more.

229 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 853-1081,

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