As many Californians know, Los Angeles is often referred to these days as “Tehrangeles”, so great is the population of Persians there. So, it’s no surprise that there are dozens of Persian restaurants and Chelo Kabab-is to choose from.
Sadly, the same is not particularly true of the Bay Area; good Persian joints are few and far between. Alborz Restaurant is a particular favorite in our family (they even catered part of our wedding feast), but driving to the city each time we crave Chelo Kabab is sub-optimal.
The other night, we happened upon Papa’s Restaurant, about which we’d heard quite a lot, and decided to check it out.
Papa’s is set along a stretch of University Avenue just west of Shattuck. It’s a simple little place, with some Persian artwork on the walls, but otherwise rather sparse decor. There are perhaps 15 tables, and one extremely efficient woman serving all of them.
Despite the fact that most Persian restaurants serve ridiculously large portions, we decided to order a few appetizers since (a) we were starving and (b) it was my in-laws’ first visit to a Persian restaurant.
I found our order of Kashk-e Bademjan to be just OK. The eggplants seemed a bit undercooked, and the unique tang of kashk was missing. On the other hand, the mast-o mousir (yogurt with shallots) was perfect–thick, rich strained yogurt with finely chopped shallot and spices.
We also had a sir-torshi (pickled garlic) and panir-o-sabzi (fresh herbs, feta cheese, walnuts, radishes and green onions, to be eaten with pita bread). Both of these were fine, though I was rather surprised that we were only served mint, instead of the traditional mint, basil and sometimes tarragon.
We all four ordered varying chelo-kabab dishes: two orders of Soltani (one skewer each of barg, marinated filet mignon and koobideh, ground beef), one order of Bareh(marinated chunks of boneless lamb) and an order of Joojeh (boneless chicken marinated in yogurt and saffron).
The barg kababs were wonderfully juicy, tender and flavorful. The koobideh skewers were less successful–they were rather dry, and didn’t have nearly enough onion. The bareh was delicious and very tender–the best pieces had a bit of char on the edges. Each of these was served with a nice-sized portion of polow and a grilled tomato (which, like the eggplant, was undercooked–it should fall apart easily to be mixed in with the rice).
The joojeh kabab was very tasty and moist, and allowed for a nice option of zereshk polow (rice with glazed barberries) instead of plain rice. This was arguably my favorite dish, and I would be likely to order it next time.
For dessert, we had Persian tea all around, and an order of Bastani, a rosewater-flavored ice cream with chunks of frozen cream folded in. Both were delicious, and a perfect way to end the meal.
Overall, I really like having Papa’s nearby for when I need a quick fix, but I don’t think it’s the best chelo kabab in the area. For novices to Persian food, though, it’s a great introduction with a friendly staff and easy-to-decipher menu.
2026 University Avenue