If you ask Foad Aftahi what he thinks about Denver's Persian restaurant climate, he wrinkles his nose and shakes his head. "I don't think you'll find any good Persian restaurants in Denver," he claims. And that, he insists, is why he opened Chicken Kabob, a tasteful, contemporary, fast-casual Persian restaurant that sits squarely in a small mall at 9678 East Arapahoe Road. Aftahi, who hails from Iran, and moved to the States in 1969, where he eventually ended up in Wyoming and graduated from the University of Wyoming with a civil engineering degree, operated his own company for thirty years, but in 2008, he says, "everything went south with the economy," and he came to Denver to be closer to his kids, who pushed him to open a Persian restaurant. "I've always had a passion for cooking -- it's a hobby -- and I have experience in catering, and my daughter told me I should try something new, like a restaurant."
The first mistake I make when placing my order is to ask Aftahi, who's peering into the dining room from his semi-open kitchen, if he has hot sauce. "Persian food," he says with a frown, "is not spicy." And nor should the cuisine of Persia be lumped into the food from the Middle East. "Comparing Middle Eastern food to Persian food is like comparing Japanese food to Chinese food," he tells me. "Persian food," he notes, "is mellow and aromatic and definitely not spicy."
In fact, Persian cuisine is incredibly delicate, relying on gentle spicing and fresh herbs and fruits; rice is front and center, the use of oil is minimal and chicken is the favored protein. And Persian food, Aftahi insists, is good for your body. "It's all fresh and natural, and a much healthier alternative to a grease trap."
His menu, a mix of chicken kabobs and koobidehs, chicken stews and basmati rice, either scented with saffron, or specked with herbs and vegetables, plus a remarkably good yogurt sauce and an equally terrific cucumber salad, is straightforward with minimal flourish -- and so is Aftahi's food, which arrives on Styrofoam plates.
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The grilled chicken kabob, marinated and rubbed with spices, flaked at the mere poke of a fork, and the juicy koobideh, a ground chicken skewer, is even better. The plates, all accompanied by drifts of impossibly fluffy rice (Aftahi procures it from a source in California), yogurt and cucumber salad, are massive -- and cheap -- and no hot sauce is necessary.
Aftahi, who opened Chicken Kabob just over a month ago, says that trade has been brisk, and that his clientele is notably diverse. "I came here to introduce my food to Americans, but I welcome everyone, and so far, we've had everyone from Russians and Pakistanis to Americans and Persians coming in," he says, adding too, that "people are coming back and becoming regulars -- they're all supporting me."
If you go -- and you should -- the hours are Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. on Sunday.