A fine addition to Seattle's ethnic-eatery scene

Pakistani food isn't just Indian by another name. Sure, the Indian influence is clear in such dishes as tandoori chicken and the rice pilaf called biryani, but Pakistan borrows just as much from its Middle Eastern neighbors to the west. At Usmania Tikka Kabab, that means baklava, falafel and superb kababs. Is there anything more universal than meat on a stick?

I'm pretty sure fettuccine Alfredo isn't a traditional Pakistani dish, but there it is on Usmania's menu ($5.95), which I guess is handy if you've dragged along a picky eater.

Usmania is run by chef Abdul Karim Qureshi and his family. In addition to cooking at the Sand Point Country Club and the Bellingham Yacht Club, Qureshi once made former Seattle Times restaurant critic John Hinterberger's Top 10 list as the owner of Marco Polo restaurant, which was then in Lynnwood.

No longer associated with Marco Polo, Qureshi opened Usmania about 18 months ago on a noisy Aurora corner north of Green Lake. There's no air conditioning, so on an 85-degree day there are two choices: Open the door and listen to the traffic, or close the door and stew like a curry. Luckily, the service is extremely friendly and attentive, and we never spent a moment without a full water pitcher on the table.

The selection of kababs (available as a platter, $6.95-$8.95, or as an inexpensive naan-wrapped sandwich, $3.75 at lunch or $4.25 at dinner) includes chicken, lamb and beef. There is also the peshawari chapli kabab ($6.95), a big flat patty of meat, spiced, according to Qureshi, with "about 25 different seasonings" and served (like all the kababs) with fresh whole-wheat naan and spicy yogurt chutney. All of the food at Usmania Tikka is halal, prepared in accordance with Islamic law.

Pakistan isn't usually in the news for the most upbeat reasons. But if there's any silver lining to the world's conflicts, it's the constant renewal of ethnic restaurants in U.S. cities. I'd love to see more Pakistani food in Seattle, especially if it means the kind of top-quality meat on a stick offered at Usmania Tikka Kabab.

Check please

Mulligatawny Soup: I like ordering mulligatawny soup because you never know what you're going to get. It could be vegetarian or include chicken or lamb, maybe rice and lentils. This version, with rice and chicken in a curried broth, was pleasant but not inspired.

Lentil Soup: There was more than a passing resemblance between the lentil soup and the mulligatawny soup; this was essentially the mulligatawny with the chicken and rice replaced by lentils.

Royal Tikka Combo: The only thing better than meat on a stick is multiple meats on a stick. This combo features boneless chicken, lamb and the cigar-shaped ground beef called kofta at most Middle Eastern restaurants and seekh kabab here. All the meats benefited from a piquant spice rub, but my favorite was the juicy chicken.

Nahari: "The most famous and favorite traditional Pakistani beef dish," says the menu, and I can see why. Chunks of beef braised to tenderness in a rich sauce full of ground spices and garnished with slices of fresh jalapeño and slivered ginger, nahari is going to ruin me for American beef stew. It includes naan, but we also asked for a side of rice to soak up the sauce. Like all naan, Usmania's whole-wheat version should be eaten as hot as you can stand it, because it's best just out of the tandoor.

Baklava: Made fresh daily and served hot and crisp, this baklava was loaded with ground nuts and not too sticky.

Gulab Jamun: This dessert special was accurately described to us as doughnut holes left to lounge in syrup until no longer crisp. If that description moves you, you will enjoy gulab jamun.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Mulligatawny Soup (cup) $1.25

Lentil Soup (cup) $1.25

Royal Tikka Combo $10.95

Nahari $6.95

Baklava $2.95

Gulab Jamun $1.50

Tax $2.31

Total $27.16

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net

Usmania Tikka Kabab

7821 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle, 206-788-0410




Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays.

No alcohol / credit cards: Visa, MC / no smoking / no obstacles to access.