Fast feast

A generous order of veggie pakora is served with dipping sauces, alongside a shami sandwich.

A generous order of veggie pakora is served with dipping sauces, alongside a shami sandwich.

PHOTO/ALLISON YOUNG

Dawat Fast Food & Restaurant is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Dawat Fast Food & Restaurant’s location isn’t great, but a preponderance of signs touting “halal fast food” of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian origins certainly caught my eye. Dawat means “feast” or “invitation to feast,” indicating a great opportunity to round up my hungry family group for a meal.

As you enter, spicy, heady, pungent smells from the open kitchen hit your nose, creating anticipation. Counter orders were quickly delivered to the table. Canned and bottled soft drinks are available, but the owner surprised us by offering free bottled water. I commensurately bumped up the tip.

Dishes were served in attractive metal bowls and glass plates, though with sauces in foam cups and plasticware and paper plates for dining—an odd but utilitarian juxtaposition. Chicken biryani ($9.99) was served with three chutneys: sweet, minty and spicy. The turmeric-yellow basmati rice was fragrant with a little kick, piled atop tender bone-in chicken chunks fried in chickpea flour and spices. It was absolutely great, with the chunky, herby chutney a standout.

Baskets of plain and garlic naan ($3.99) featured crispy, pillowy flatbread topped with sesame seeds. I dipped bits of naan in a bowl of nihari ($12.99), a slow-cooked stew of shank meat, onion, bone marrow and spices. I’m guessing it was either mutton or goat, though the menu didn’t specify. Topped with fresh cilantro, it was hearty and rich—and the meat practically fell off the bone. Rice wasn’t served with the stewed dishes, so we used the plentiful biryani to good end.

Chicken tikka masala ($12.99)—a mix of grilled chicken, onion and spices—was considerably different from others I’ve encountered. The small chunks of chicken included bones you had to watch out for, and it was pretty heavy on the ghee (clarified butter)—different, but delicious. A serving of paya ($12.99)—beef feet stewed with a considerable amount of hot spices—was essentially cross sections of bone with a healthy amount of fatty, jellied collagen attached. I’m assuming a true devotee would just pick them up and nibble off the bone, but I made the effort to tear bits off with a plastic fork. The dish was smooth, creamy, buttery and great combined with naan. It’s probably not for everyone, but don’t knock it ’til you try it.

Vinegared cucumber and cabbage sprinkled with ground spices was provided as accoutrement for the meal and was not a bad salad on its own. Ground beef kabobs ($7.99) made with spices and onion were served on a bed of the same salad, perfectly grilled and easily the spiciest dish of the bunch. I wrapped garlic naan around a chunk of this and topped it with salad and some chutney. Bliss.

Veggie pakora ($4.99) were above-average examples of the crispy, fried chickpea flour fritters that are common to Indian subcontinent cuisine. They were plenty flavorful on their own, though I did enjoy dipping them in all the sauces and stew broths. Dal chana ($7.99) was akin to chana masala, a spicy chickpea stew that may have used dal (lentil) for the thickened goo. Regardless, it was spicy and good.

We completed the meal with a big, shared bowl of gajar halwa ($7.99), a lightly sweet carrot and nut dessert. I’ve had a few versions of this in the past, but I’d enjoy this particular piping hot bowl of healthy goodness more as breakfast than dessert.