Indian food has gotten its gourmet due with Tabla in New York and, maybe not quite as luxuriantly, but quite aptly, with Marigold and Veerasway in Chicago. Pakistani food, though, not so much. It seems the only place to score the tasty bits from Karachi and Lahore in Chicago is at no-frills cabbie joints. On the other hand, as a frequenter of such places, I can't really complain too much because when I find a good one, I never have to fight for a seat.
Last night, I found myself at one such place, Bismillah, a Ravenswood cabbie joint. Due to the red and white draperies shrouding all the windows, the place looked like it was closed. Fortunately, I dropped in to find a boisterous crowd of folks, many in salwar kameez hovering over steaming bowls of keema, haleem, and fresh, bubbly tandoor-caramelized naan and chapati.
Almost everything I had at Bismillah was good, but the highlight were the chapli kebabs. Chapli kebabs are basically like mini meatloaves stuffed with chilis and aromatics. Most places on Devon street (Chicago's Pakistani/Indian corridor) use minced lamb or beef formed into thick patties that quickly dry out in the unforgiving heat of the tandoor. Bismillah instead mixes red and green chilis with a ground chicken, which retains its juiciness even under the swelter of the tandoor. Their patties are pizelle-like thin, light and crispy, and perfectly caramelized on the outside, with a succulent spicy interior. Until another cabbie joint dethrones them or an upscale Pakistani place finally opens, these are now my favorite chapli kebabs in Chicago.
6301 N Ridge Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660 (map)