Quiet move

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Bashful celebrity: If San Franciscans knew that chef Zulfiqar “Guddu” Haider’s new restaurant was sitting completely empty in Rocklin, of all places, they might trip over themselves to line up for his tandoori fish.

Since 1996, Haider has made a name for himself serving Pakistani food throughout the Bay Area in four different restaurants. His most popular ventures included two cramped, steamy San Francisco dining rooms: Lahore Karahi in the Tenderloin and Guddu de Karahi in the Outer Sunset.

“I have the big huge success, you know,” Haider said with a sheepish laugh. Next, he showed off a spiral-bound book of his restaurants’ effervescent reviews from Zagat, SF Weekly and the San Francisco Examiner. He had been interviewed on KQED, he added.

Haider closed Guddu de Karahi in 2015 to slow down. Then his wife Claudia Siefer, a singer with the San Francisco Opera for nearly 40 years, encouraged Haider to make moves to accommodate her upcoming retirement. So that explains why the chef with a cult following opened Kabab Hut (6661 Stanford Ranch Road) in late June … in Rocklin.

Here, you’ll find heartfelt recipes made from Haider’s memories of his mother and from his mind. The menu offers colorful biryanis, complex curries, a smattering of vegetarian options and the signature tandoori fish marinated in “secret” herbs and spices—supposedly, even his brothers don’t know the recipe. And yet, during lunchtime on a Wednesday, each table lay vacant.

To the once-popular chef, the start feels slow. “I’m used to, when I open the door, people just walking in,” he said.

Still, Haider is pleased with Rocklin’s peacefulness compared to San Francisco. Most of all, he cherishes a crucial feature of his new restaurant, an architectural rarity in the big city: an open kitchen where he can watch patrons enjoying themselves “with my passion, with my love, with my food.”

Haider has never franchised and said he never will. He prefers to be in the kitchen every day, dipping his hands into each dish to taste-test for quality.

“It’s a one-man-show job,” he said.

Line-worthy pastries: The “Starbucks of Taiwan” will have its grand opening July 14 in its first Sacramento location and celebrate by selling coffee for 10 cents. But already, the bountiful pastry display at 85 Degrees C Bakery Cafe (5591 Sky Parkway, Suite 411) has attracted crowds since its soft opening last week. If you’re hunting down favorites like the brioche or marble taro, rise early—like the bakers and the buns—because they’ve been selling out.