CHIReview

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Helmand image
8.1

Best New Restaurants

2023

Helmand

This spot is Temporarily Closed.

Afghan

Albany Park

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerBirthdaysDate NightWalk-InsLunch
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Helmand is quiet. It’s usually empty. Visually, it's a bit like a CAPTCHA photo where you need to prove you’re not a robot by selecting the blocks that “make this place a restaurant.”

It might be sparse, but it doesn’t matter. Helmand’s Afghan food is incredible, and this family-operated BYOB spot in Albany Park is the reason we perk up like thirsty freshly-watered houseplants when we hear the words kabuli or palao.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Helmand image
Helmand image
Helmand image

Appetizers like spiced potato-stuffed flatbread and plump beef mantu inspire "Albany Park" Zillow searches. And while the local kabob competition is fierce (there are several great spots nearby), every grilled piece of meat and seafood at Helmand is cooked and seasoned so perfectly it’s the indisputable king of Kabob Row. 

But the must-order is the Uzbeki palao with mulung. Anticipation builds as the massive plate of meat and rice makes its ponderous journey to your table like a 60-foot inflatable Snoopy at the Thanksgiving Day parade. The giant lamb shank is fall-off-the-bone perfection and comes on a bed of kabuli flavored with lamb juice, raisins, and caramelized carrots.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

While the prospect of delicious food is what gets us through the door, it’s Helmand’s friendly staff that keeps us in our seats. From the moment the chef drops off the complimentary bread to when his son brings the check (and offers to take a group photo afterward), you’ll always feel welcome. And since it’s never too crowded and the background music truly stays in the background, it’s perfect for a last-minute meal with people who value good conversation as much as buttery pieces of lamb.

There’s no shortage of vibey places in Chicago, that have everything from bottle sparklers to magic shows between courses. But Helmand doesn’t need the fluff. It’s a reminder of the main reason we all love eating at restaurants in the first place—good food.

Food Rundown

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Mantu

While we like both of the dumplings on Helmand’s menu (the aashak has leeks and scallions), the mantu deserve a neverending highlight reel. The peppery ground beef and onion filling is complemented by the spicy tomato sauce and minty yogurt.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Bolani

Complimentary house bread is nice—but an order of their pillowy, potato-stuffed flatbread bread is nicer. The mashed potato filling is light and fluffy and pairs well with the tart cilantro chutney that comes on the side.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Boranee Banjan

The combination of meaty eggplant and tomatoes is garlicky, but nicely counterbalanced by the minty yogurt. The table bread is a great delivery system, but we’re fans of also getting the bolani to join the party.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Uzbeki Palao With Mulung

This is Helmand’s crowning achievement. The kabuli, with raisins and caramelized carrots, is fantastic on its own. But when mixed with meat from the lamb shank, each spoonful transforms into a rich combination of savory and sweet.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Afghan Seekh Kabob

Ordering these garlicky lamb skewers is mandatory. You can get them individually or with with rice (kabuli is the only right answer). Plus, the flatbread underneath becomes especially tasty after it soaks up the juices from the meat.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Beef Koubideh Kabob

The beef koubideh has a great charred exterior with little bits of crispiness and a juicy center. Its smoky flavor gets a splash of brightness from a squeeze of lemon.

Helmand image

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Chicken Karahi

This heavily spiced dish has plenty of cumin and some heat from jalapeños. The tender pieces of chicken are swimming in a tomato and pepper sauce that should absolutely be finished off with bread or rice after the meat is gone.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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