By Sunny Walia
Mar 24, 2022
SAN JOSE, CALIF. — Zareen’s Restaurant is a Michelin Guide featured Indo-Pak restaurant in Palo Alto, serving authentic Pakistani dishes. From curries, naans and other fusion dishes ranging from Punjab, Bombay and Karachi.
Indian-Pakistani cuisine is a cuisine that incorporates dishes of both cuisines. Zareen’s has authentic dishes like nihari and thalis, but also dishes that introduce non-desi people to the flavors of South Asian cuisine like burgers and rolls. It’s located at 365 California Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306 in a small strip mall featuring other restaurants and small antique stores. However, this is not the only location, Zareen’s has a takeout only location in Mountain View and a 2nd dine-in location in Redwood City.
Regardless of the day you show up, you can expect there to be a line or crowd inside of tech workers, students and families. Zareen’s really is a place you go to eat as a group because Pakistani dishes are typically shared meals. Meals like burgers and rolls here are meant for one person, but many of the dishes consist of shared meals like curries and sabjis.
Zareen’s was featured on the 2020 Michelin Guide. Even with this recognition, Zareen’s is an accessible restaurant that provides authentic desi cooking, using halal meat which lacks the blood of the animal, so the flavor of the meat really comes out. Not only is it authentic, but it’s an establishment that prides themselves on using natural produce and non-GMO ingredients.
I’ve gone to Zareen’s only a couple of times, but I’ve tried the chicken tikka masala, chicken boti sizzler, gola kabab sizzler, lamb gosht (lamb stew), garlic naan and mango lassi. Being a place with Indian cuisine, it also has a vast selection of delicious vegetarian and vegan options, so anyone can enjoy the experience of South Asian cooking.
The chicken boti and gola kabab comes to the tables sizzling in a cast iron skillet. The chicken boti takes a simple cut of meat accompanied with onions and bell peppers, and nails it. Chicken coming out on a sizzling skillet can come out dry and uninteresting, but the halal meat really captures the flavor of the meat and it’s just as tender as it is tasty. The gola kabab was minced ground beef, and it had a kick to it. It’s not your typical skewered kabab, but it’s a dish that people who can handle spice would enjoy.
The main dishes I’ve tried were the chicken tikka masala and lamb gosht. Chicken tikka masala is a chicken curry dish made with a tomato and cream base. This chicken tikka masala is one of the best I’ve ever tried. There’s a spice to the base of the curry, the meat is tender and it’s one of the more comforting dishes you can have.
The lamb gosht really did not impress me. Lamb gosht is a lamb and potato stew. I didn’t think anything of it because when I’m eating desi food, I want a fall apart, fatty meat like goat over a tougher lamb.
If you show up at Zareen’s on the weekend, I would really recommend a beef stew like Nihari for a red meat option. There’s also a chicken biryani special on Friday, and breakfast specials on the weekend like a masala omelet and halwa puri. Halwa puri is a plate of small savory and sweet dishes accompanied with a deep fried bread.
All the dishes I ordered I accompanied with garlic naan and a mango lassi. This restaurant really cares about the quality of all their dishes, so the garlic naan comes out whole and fresh topped with butter and garlic. The naan isn’t doughy. The mango lassi surprised me because it’s typical to get a mediocre mango lassi from any other desi restaurant, but the sweetness and yogurt content here was perfect. It helped cut through the spice of food, while not being an overly thick yogurt drink. Which is a must when you’re eating at Zareen’s.
This place was so good that I recommended it to my Punjabi friend Gupartap Singh, a senior at Silver Creek High School. Singh has been vegetarian his whole life, but when he went to try it out with friends, he said the food was one of the best he’s ever had in the Bay Area. He tried one of the thalis, which is an assortment of vegetarian subjis like daal and shah paneer with rice and salad. He also had dishes like jalapeno and cheese naan, fries and mango lassi. “I’ve had a lot of Indian food in my life, but Zareen’s gave me a true home and traditional feeling,” – Singh.
A table featuring thalis, naans, mango lassi, butter chicken and an empty basket of fries
(Photo Credits: Gupartap Singh)
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