There is good news for fans of Panjshir and the food of Afghanistan. The Vienna branch–known as Panjshir II–has reopened after a fire and is as welcoming and comfortable as ever.
While Afghanistan is remote and exotic, the cuisine is quite accessible. Landlocked and surrounded by Iran, Pakistan, and several former Soviet republics, the cooking is intense but not fiery. Start with the unofficial national dish, scallion-filled dumplings topped with a meat sauce and sprinkled with diced vegetables and mint. Mantoo, steamed ravioli-like meat dumplings topped with a meat sauce and yogurt, is another good appetizer. Both are also served as main courses.
A conservative way to continue is with one of the kebabs of chicken, lamb, or ground beef. Beyond those are palows, rice dishes akin to Indian biryanis. Chalows are similar but sweeter, with raisins, sautéed carrots, and prunes. Vegetarian plates are available as main courses or side dishes–try the pumpkin, eggplant, turnips, or spinach, all nicely seasoned with native spices and herbs. Tea drinkers will enjoy the cardamom tea. For a soothing dessert, order the almond pudding with cardamom and pistachios.
Panjshir, 924 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-536-4566, closed Sunday, no wheelchair access; Panjshir II, 224 Maple Ave. W., Vienna, 703-281-4183, open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner.