FOOD: Crystal City’s Kabob Palace

After a Friday night out celebrating a birthday, one of my girlfriend’s and her husband adamantly suggested that we should stop off for late night food as a twenty-four hour restaurant in Crystal City.  Not too far from where we were and in the direction of my home, I was game.  They live on the opposite side of the metro area, but her husband insisted that they needed to get food. 

At a quarter to three o’clock in the morning, we arrived at Kabob Palace to a line that wrapped around and almost out the door.  It stayed that way the entire time we were there.  All of the tables for eat-in dining were filled.

Located a block off of Route 1 in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood of Arlington, it is immediately prepared food for those with limited time but discriminating palates.  Even in the middle of the night.  To call it otherwise would be to do a disservice.  Neon sign outside the door, lit pictures of menu items, and walls decorated with a combination of Indian and middle eastern art and pictures and awards and recognitions it was as billed by my friends, but I had no idea what to expect.

That first night, I ordered the lamb kebab, finishing half of it there, and taking the rest to have for lunch the following day.  Portion sizes were plentiful.  The meat was well seasoned and perfectly cooked to orders.  The vegetable sides that you choose with your order were spicy but not so overwhelming hot as too alienate those who don’t have tongues set to the upper end of the Scoville scale.  I opted for the spinach that first night.

Every meal comes with rice, salad, and naan.  The rice, while perfectly cooked, and salad were forgettable accompaniments to the meal, as they should be, but the naan is some of the best I have had in years.  Chewy and substantial for sopping up sauces and grains of rice.  Perfectly thick enough for folding in half, yet it did not overwhelm the weight of the rest of the food.

I went back once more by myself for lunch.  Ordering this time, the kabob e kubideh: ground sirloin and onions with the house seasoning.  This time I got the spinach and the red lentils with my meal, opting out of the salad.  Once again, I brought half of my meal home with me.  The men working the registers, grill, and bussing stations are efficient in moving through the large volume of people who pour through their doors for take out or dine in.  As a part of the fold, I felt managed, but not handled.

It is not, however, a place for the faint of heart.  The guests were white and blue collar working people who were, obviously, regulars and no nonsense about their orders.  To reach the register unsure of your order would results in glares from staff and customers alike. English was not the first language of many of the patrons and staff, but you felt at home—if sharing a filling meal is something you have ever done with your family. 

Earlier this week, I brought my father in to enjoy lunch with me.  Before our orders were even announced over the loud speaker, he commented that it reminded him of a place he had frequented when in Israel a few years ago.  The people, the feel, the smell, and he hadn’t even tasted the food yet.   He ordered the palace combo featuring the lamb kabob and the boneless chicken.  I ordered the chicken kebab bone in and the eggplant and potatoes as my vegetable.  My father remarked on how well the chicken was seasoned and I was completely drawn in to the juiciness of the bone in kebab.  We both sat and talked and finished our meals.

While we were eating, a customer two tables over had a curry delivered to him in an extra deep sauce pan.  I will be going back to order curry.