It had been a long day for me while calling on accounts in the Chicago area recently. I was heading back out to my hotel in Addison and decided to let my GPS figure out where to go have dinner that evening. I found an Indian/Pakistani restaurant by the name of Shahi Nihari that wasn't far away from where I was at. I decided to give them a try for dinner that night.
Actually, I should clarify Shahi Nihari as a Pakistani/Indian restaurant with much more of an emphasis on Pakistani cuisine. They're also known as Hot N Spicy to many people, as well. Owner/CEO Anwar Gazi was born and raised in Pakistan and moved to the U.S. a number of years ago. About 9 years ago Gazi opened Shahi Nihari to cater to a growing Muslim population in the western suburbs of Chicago. At one point they had three locations including one in Lombard, but they closed that up and moved just down the road to a larger location in Villa Park a couple three years ago. They also used to have a location in Schaumburg, but they now have a location on Golf Road in Morton Grove.
Shahi Nihari is located on North Ave. in Villa Park almost right on the borders of where Lombard, Addison and Villa Park all meet up. (see map) I went in and was greeted by a pleasant man who showed me to a table in their dining room. There is a larger banquet room off to the side of the main dining area.
When I got into the menu I knew that I was far from an Indian restaurant. First of all, there was beef on the menu. Secondly, there was very little on the menu that remotely looked like it was Indian food. They had beef and chicken kabobs, a number of sandwiches, and a number of entrees that included lamb including daal gosht and palak gosht. They even had a brain masala on the menu. Uh, no thanks.
While I was looking through the menu trying to make heads or tails of what I was getting into, a waiter brought over a plate of sliced cucumbers and onions with a lime wedge on the plate. A cucumber sauce as well as a brown sauce came with the plate. Now, I didn't have the faintest idea what or why this was placed in front of me. I don't care for raw cucumbers all that much (although my wife makes a great cucumber/onion salad in a mayo cream sauce), and I don't know why there would be raw onion slices as an appetizer. I was on my own on this one, but willing to broaden my culinary horizons. Actually, the cucumber sauce - what I thought would be sort of cool and refreshing - was pretty spicy. I'm guessing the green specs in the sauce were quite possibly pureed jalapenos. And the brown sauce - what I guessed to be the spicy of the two - was actually pretty mild.
The other thing that I found out at Shahi Nihari, they didn't have beer. No Kingfisher, no Taj Mahal, not even a Bud Light. Hmmm... OK. Well, I guess I'm not gonna get a beer to cut the spicy taste in my mouth.
At a table next to me, there were two couples - one with a small child. One of the couples were regulars at Shahi Nihari and looked to be of Southern Asian descent. They were telling the other couple that this place had the most authentic Pakistani food in Chicago. I silently wished that they would give me some pointers on what to order.
I ended up getting their namesake dish, the Shahi Nihari - it's basically shredded beef served in a spicy curry gravy. I also ordered some garlic naan - one of the few things I recognized on the menu.
The Shahi Nihari was served in a large square bowl and that was it. No rice or anything else to go with it. There was a very shallow layer of grease on the top of the curry gravy sauce. There wasn't a lot of beef in the dish.
The curry gravy wasn't all that spicy - at least to me. The beef was tender and pulled apart very easily. But I couldn't get over the layer of grease that had coagulated at the top. I would stir it up and within a couple minute the layer of grease would reappear. I wasn't really certain I liked the Shahi Nihari or not.
What I did like was the garlic naan. It was thicker than most naan breads that I've had at Indian restaurants and it was loaded with garlic. I used some of the garlic naan to dip into the curry gravy, as well as into the spicy cucumber sauce. All the time I was thinking that a beer would really be nice with this meal.
For going into Shahi Nihari as a complete neophyte of true Pakistani cuisine, I guess I was impressed enough to learn more about what they had to offer and to possibly get back there to try something else. The Shahi Nihari entree was fine, but it was basically over in six bites. There was a lot of the curry gravy left over and I would have liked to have a little rice to go along with it so it wouldn't have gone to waste. Would I eat there again? Sure! But I'd probably go for one of the lamb dishes the next time.