Menu blazes trail between Afghan, American foods
By Greg Sabin
Madar Afghan Food and Bakery is tucked into a strip mall on the corner of Marconi and Fulton avenues. The little restaurant brings Afghan flavors and American expectations together in a smart and delicious package.
How smart? So smart I was convinced Madar was part of a chain. It’s not, but you’d be forgiven for thinking so. From the slick logo font, focused menu and navigable website, this place doesn’t feel like a small, independent restaurant. It’s a machine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dozen Madars in Northern California over the next few years.
Madar opened in April 2020. That was a tough time, one month into COVID-19 restrictions. But the crew at Madar persevered.
Ordering happens at the counter. The dining room delivers subtle hints of Afghan culture while being utilitarian and unfussy. A small platform in one corner, strewn with cushions and tucked away under a hanging lamp, feels like a place where travelers can park themselves and sip tea.
Chalkboards abound with frequently changed drawings of animals, flora and sage wisdoms. On a recent visit, a drawing of a blooming plant took up one wall with the words, “Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place.”
The humble and comfortable environs are not why most diners visit Madar. They come for the food. Flavors are explosive, preparations expert, the vibe undeniable. Let me add a few details and hope you catch my drift.
The menu leans toward the mix-and-match model, with a few different preparations, sandwich, pita or rice bowl. Fries topped with meat and sauce, Indian samosas and desserts, including baklava and cookies, round out the menu.
Whether you opt for a crispy sandwich or a “naanwich” (served in Indian naan bread), the chicken is out of sight. A heavily spiced and breaded cutlet, studded with black sesame seeds and crispier than a potato chip, is topped with your choice of sauces. Some are spicy, some sweet, all mouth-pleasing. Any restaurant claiming it has the best fried chicken sandwich in town might need to take a step back.
Or you could have the chapli burger. Chapli is a type of kebab made of ground meat, herbs and spices. Madar chapli is made with tri-tip. The chapli burger is served on a brioche bun and topped with tomato, coleslaw and yogurt mint chutney. Phenomenal.
The most indulgent American-style treat is the ’Merican fries. It’s a bed of waffle fries topped with crispy chicken, house sauce and seasonings. Here’s the Afghan answer to carne asada fries.
Over the last 20 years, more than 15,000 Afghans have arrived in Sacramento, predominantly in Arden Arcade. These immigrants and refugees bring food cultures, flavors and customs not seen before in the region.
Madar pulls together these imported preparations and ingredients, and melds them with American ideas of casual dining and fast-casual cooking. Much as Afghanistan itself has been a crossroads, fusing cultures from Central Asia and the Middle East and absorbing ideas from travelers, restaurants such as Madar fuse Afghan and American cuisine to create something special. I encourage you to reach out and discover what our Afghan community has to offer.