Eat Drink Do
Entertainment Restaurants Bars Eat Drink Do

The essentials: Khan BBQ

Khan BBQ
2401 W. Devon Ave. 773-274-8600
Looks like: Barbie's Dreamhouse, thanks to pink walls and a crystal chandelier
Smells like: Coriander and cumin
Sounds like: Cabbies conversing in spitfire Urdu and the tinkling of metal skewers as cooks scrape the clay walls of the tandoor while they cook

He is a chef mostly by osmosis. Amjad Kahn, owner of Khan BBQ in West Rogers Park, helped his mom chop vegetables and toast spices on occasion, but mostly he just watched her cook in his childhood home in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

A few years later in the 1970s while working for as a mess hall cook for an oil company in Saudi Arabia, he whipped up approximations of her recipes from memory for friends at his apartment as a diversion from his job. In 1984, he immigrated to America, worked at restaurant near the now demolished Robert Taylor Homes making submarine sandwiches behind bulletproof glass. He traded in that job for a series of restaurant jobs on Chicago's Indo-Pakistani corridor near Devon and Western avenues. He didn't always cook, but like he had with his mother, he watched the cooks he worked with and absorbed their techniques.

Eventually, he rented a tiny restaurant of his own on Devon, just east of Western. It was a swelter of a place with bright red laminate bench seating that evoked a 1970s Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was poorly ventilated, always smoky, and in the summer, without air-conditioning, hellishly hot. I remember the first time I visited in March of 2006, Khan, who you'd recognize by his thick white Hemingway-esque beard and his everpresent plain baseball cap (never a logo), tried to wave me away, saying his food was too spicy.

And it's true: Familiar with heavily-Americanized-pseudo-Indian cream and butter larded dishes, not smoky and spicy Pakistani staples, I had no idea what I was in for. But, then again, as a connoisseur of the American backyard barbecue, in many ways I was primed for Khan's hardwood-smoked kababs and breads grilled in a tandoor, a clay oven used in Pakistani and Indian cooking. In fact, that first visit was one of the great meals of my life. Weeks later, a grease fire burned the restaurant down.

But, three months after the fire, in June of 2006, Khan opened up bigger and better in his current location at the corner of Devon and Western. The usual assortment of expatriate Pakistanis and Muslims breaking fast after sundown during Ramadan migrated to the new spot, but so did foodies and curious Chicagoans looking for what I consider the best Pakistani food in Chicago.

They come for the chicken boti ($10.99) a silver platter of charcoal-blistered juicy thighs and wings slathered in a mint-green chili yogurt sauce, and the sausage like skewers of ground lamb fired up with ginger and chili and garlic known as seekh kababs ($10.99). They stay for the karahi gosht ($11.99), or braised goat bathed in a gravy of ghee or clarified brown butter. They sop up any remaining juices with puffy pillows of naan ($2.49), made to order in the same wood-fired tandoors as the kababs. Even the most carnivorous love Khan's creamy lentil daal ($5.99) or his fiery thick stew of chickpeas or chana masala ($5.99). Mom would be proud.

Michael Nagrant is a RedEye special contributor. redeye@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • The essentials: Hopleaf

    The essentials: Hopleaf

    Upping your Chicago bar cred one sip at a time

  • Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Chicago sues red light camera firm for $300 million

    Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has sued Chicago's former red light camera operator, Redflex Traffic Systems, for more than $300 million on grounds the entire program was built on a $2 million bribery scheme at City Hall that has already led to federal corruption convictions.

  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

Comments
Loading
78°