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In just a few months, the new DarWish Cuisine has carved out a unique niche.
According to co-owner Jamal Afzali, it’s the only restaurant between Los Angeles and San Jose serving authentic Persian food.
Afzali and his business partner, Saeed Aliasgarian, opened the Grover Beach eatery in January 2019.
Formerly a casual pizza joint, the space now conveys a welcoming touch of sophistication, thanks to a sleeker interior and white linen tablecloths.
The idea for DarWish came from members of San Luis Obispo County’s Persian community who wanted a taste of their culture, Afzali explained.
However, he noted that most of the restaurant’s patrons are not Persian — including many who have become stalwart regulars.
“We never anticipated that kind of response,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be able to share the food of our culture with everyone.”
The appeal of this venerable cuisine will be evident the minute you open the door to DarWish and draw in the compelling aromas of basmati rice and spices.
Many menu items will be familiar, such as hummus, falafel, lamb shanks and baklava.
From there, trust the talents of chef Hossain Gharabagh and try fesenjoon chicken stew, ash-e-reshteh soup or fried zoolbia for dessert.
The menu offers good information about ingredients and preparation, and the friendly staff will answer any other questions you may have.
Afzali acknowledged that hiring Gharabagh was a key component to opening DarWish.
A professional chef for almost 25 years, Gharabagh’s expertise in his native Persian cuisine is amplified by his attention to technique and the restaurant’s commitment to quality ingredients.
Most dishes at DarWish come with a fluffy, saffron-dusted serving of basmati rice.
This white aromatic grain is a cornerstone of this cuisine, so Afzali goes the extra mile to import Grade A basmati from Pakistan. The same attention is paid to the lavash flatbread, which he sources from Beverly Hills.
Here’s another crucial detail: All the meats served at DarWish are halal. This certification assures they have been processed according to strict Islamic standards, and no pork is used.
Those halal meats are the basis for some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, such as chicken and beef kabobs.
Some are fashioned the familiar way with chunks of meat threaded onto skewers. Others, known as koobideh, are made with seasoned ground meat shaped onto flat skewers, then grilled.
“(Gharabagh) grinds the meat daily for our kabobs,” Afzali said. “That’s after he has marinated the chicken for about 12 hours, and the beef for about 24.”
Chicken and beef koobideh are also available in wraps for weekday lunch specials, as are sandwiches with falafel or olovieh. That latter sandwich is made with a rich chicken and potato salad; try it with a bit of the citrusy sumac seasoning that’s on every table.
Vegetarians will find several options throughout the menu as well. Order some dolmeh (grape leaves stuffed with herbed rice, dal and lentils), kashk-e-bademjan (sautéed eggplants and onions) or a shirazi salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and onions.
Pescatarians can go for salmon kabobs or pan-fried rainbow trout.
If you are visiting DarWish with a group, a good way to sample the menu is with the family-style party platters that serve two, four or six people with an array of meat kabobs, basmati rice and salad.
Or just start with some hot tea and a couple of appetizers. Then relax, explore the menu and experience a culinary tour of this ancient cuisine — right here on the Central Coast.
967 West Grand Ave., Grover Beach
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Monday, closed Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
The scene: A gracious atmosphere and friendly staff take the guesswork out of exploring this unique cuisine.
The cuisine: Authentic Persian fare from appetizers, soups and salads to hearty main dishes such as meat stews and kabobs. Vegetarians can find plenty of options as well. Beer and wine available.
Expect to spend: Starters $5 to $10, main dishes $15 to $26, party platters $60 to $120; weekday lunch specials $12.