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The ultimate guide to: The best desi food in Karachi

Updated October 27, 2014

The best desi food in Karachi? The choice is endless.

We have some of the best barbecue in the world – sizzling, spicy and tender. Your taste buds are in for a treat whether you choose seekh kebabs, malai boti, bihari kebab, kheeri or chicken tikka. Perfect with fresh parathas or piping hot naan straight from the tandoor.

Moving away from BBQ, is there anything like a perfectly balanced karahi or biryani? Or you can go for fiery, glutinous nihari generously sprinkled with ginger, coriander and chillies.

Finish up with halwa puri, shahi tukra or kulfi falooda and you have a meal fit for a raja.

So where can you find the most authentic Pakistani cuisine?

Be prepared to venture away from the rarefied atmosphere of five-star places for the best desi food in town. Although posher versions of Karachi’s favourite eateries are popping up at Port Grand and in Clifton, there are those that swear that too much hygiene kills the flavour.

The majority of the most renowned Pakistani food restaurants are quite basic. We’re talking plastic chairs, bare formica tables, maybe a few flies and a school cafeteria vibe – and that’s in the ones that have a family hall. Elsewhere you may end up dining in your car.

 The school cafeteria style seating at Zahid Nihari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
The school cafeteria style seating at Zahid Nihari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti

For a classier atmosphere without compromising on taste you can head to BBQ Tonight, Kolachi, Abdul Ghaffar in Port Grand or Zameer Ansari in Ocean Mall. But once in a while, it’s good to leave your nakhray at home – great food is worth a little discomfort.

Despite being basic, the best desi restaurants serve great, flavoursome, tasty food and they have such a high turnover that freshness is guaranteed. You can go for takeout, but the taste is not the same – there’s nothing like eating food fresh from the fire.


Waheed Kebab House

 Waheed Kebab House off Burns Road.– Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Waheed Kebab House off Burns Road.– Photo credits: Iman Mufti

Situated off Burns Road (otherwise known as Karachi’s food street), Waheed Kebab House is famous for its ‘Fry Kebab’. These are sautéed in butter not ghee, look like a plate of runny mince and have a mind-blowing taste.

 Waheed Kebab House serves an array of BBQ items.– Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Waheed Kebab House serves an array of BBQ items.– Photo credits: Iman Mufti

Their dhaga kebab is another firm favourite and their nihari is rated by many. They also serve a wide range of BBQ items including kheeri, beef boti and chicken tikka as well as korma and daal.


Zameer Ansari

 Ocean Grill by Zameer Ansari at Ocean Mall. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Ocean Grill by Zameer Ansari at Ocean Mall. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti

Zameer Ansari now has a posh branch at Ocean Mall but the original is located in the Delhi Mercantile Society, Bahadurabad near Alamgir Masjid.

Their BBQ is some of the best in town. Must-try items include their dhaga kebab, reshmi kebab and chicken malai boti. Add a little chutney and a freshly fried puri paratha for a memorable meal – even if you do end up eating in the car because seating can be an issue.

 Kulfi at Zameer Ansari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Kulfi at Zameer Ansari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti


Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House

 The original Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House off Tariq Road.  – Photo by author
The original Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House off Tariq Road. – Photo by author

Although they have an upmarket branch at Port Grand, the original Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House is located in a side lane off Tariq Road not too far from Naheed Supermarket. It’s a multi-story restaurant right next to Riyaz Masjid and has a family hall as well as a rather nice rooftop for family groups.

Their behari chicken and gola kebabs are stupendous and their dhaga kebab and malai boti rival those at Zameer Ansari. They also serve bun kebabs and paratha rolls for those wanting a street food fix.

 Chicken tikka being grilled at Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Chicken tikka being grilled at Abdul Ghaffar Kebab House. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti

Their desi sweets are also pretty awesome and their sujji ka halwa is divine.


Zahid Nihari

 Fiery nihari available at Zahid Nihari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Fiery nihari available at Zahid Nihari. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti

Nihari is something that Karachites are passionate about. That fiery, sticky sauce, the melt-in-your-mouth meat and the fresh garnish of ginger and coriander give a spicy hit like no other.

 Zahid Nihari on Tariq Road. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti
Zahid Nihari on Tariq Road. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti

While Javed Nihari in the Federal B Area and Sabri Nihari on MA Jinnah Road have many fans, Zahid Nihari on Tariq Road serves possibly the best nihari in Karachi.

Succulent and more-ish, the nihari is the star of the menu, although they also offer biryani and qeema. You can choose nihari with added bone marrow or brain and they even sell tin-packed nihari, which is popular with overseas Pakistanis.


Meerut

 BBQ at Meerut. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti.
BBQ at Meerut. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti.

The original Meerut Kebab house is at Gurumandir though there are several locations now ranging from North Nazimabad to DHA Phase IV.

The seating at the original is basic but plentiful.

Their kheer is amazing, but tends to run out so go early if you want to sample it. They also serve great behari kebab, seekh kebabs, malai boti and kebab paratha. Well worth a trip.

 Puri being made at Meerut. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti.
Puri being made at Meerut. – Photo credits: Iman Mufti.


BBQ Tonight

 – Photo courtesy: BBQ Tonight
– Photo courtesy: BBQ Tonight's official website.

Located at Bilawal Chowrangi, BBQ Tonight is a Karachi institution. With four floors of seating plus rooftop seating, it’s absolutely massive but retains the same quality of food and speedy service that made it famous.

 – Photo courtesy: BBQ Tonight
– Photo courtesy: BBQ Tonight's official website.

It's very clean, with waiters in white cotton gloves, and is one of the few places where you can trust the chutneys if you have a sensitive stomach.

Their mutton chops, seekh kebab, behari kebab and beef ribs are excellent. They also serve delicious prawn masala and Afghani boti.


Kolachi

 Kolachi
Kolachi's serene seafront setting. – Photo by author.

Kolachi rivals any of Karachi’s top restaurants, both in terms of atmosphere and quality of food.

Located at Do Darya, Kolachi’s terraced seafront setting is simply beautiful. The menu includes a wide range of barbeque and other Pakistani dishes. Their fried fish, Sajji, Handi chicken, Hunza Kebab and Peshawari karahi are all particularly delicious.


Most of these restaurants serve traditional desserts, including halwa, kheer and kulfi. However, if you are looking for an iced treat to end your meal you may want to venture farther afield.

Try gola ganda from one of the many vendors at Dhorajee, or a crunch kulfi from Iceberg in Saddar. Alternatively, head to the original Peshawari ice cream in Saddar – their Anwar Rattol, Shareefa and Pistachio ice creams are unrivalled.

If you live in Defence or Clifton and don’t want to venture too far afield, you can head to Boat Basin. They have very good bethak-style tandoori places and restaurants selling all kinds of authentic, delicious Pakistani food.

Try Roll Inn for paratha rolls, Flamingo for chaat and Tandoori for karahi.

Nihari Inn’s nihari and kunna are very good and there are several places that sell great bun kebabs and halwa puri.

There’s even a branch of Hanifia, with its famous hunter beef buns.

These are some of Karachi’s most famous desi restaurants, but there are many little restaurants all over town serving amazing local food.

Everyone has their own favourites – from Anwar Baloch’s karahi to the kali mirch karahi at Afridi Inn to the epic malai boti at Delhi Kebabish.

Which are your go-to restaurants for the best Pakistani food in Karachi?


The writer is a freelance journalist and the creative force behind style blog karachista.com. Follow her on Twitter @karachista