If you are a regular Stoned & Starving reader, you know I start these profiles off with a little soliloquy, because well, context (and because I like to read my own "fancy writing"), but this week we are getting right to it because Kabul Afghan Cuisine, the long-standing landmark on the corner of North 45th Street and Corliss Avenue North, gave me the best damn dining experience I've had in more than 25 years in Seattle. It was so nice that members of King Youngblood and I went back twice for a special deluxe Bumbershoot edition of the column.
Because Kabul’s been around so long, much like good ol’ Bumbershoot, you might have taken this lowkey spot for granted, but do not sleep on it a minute longer. You can make a reservation—do it now.
Kabul is run by Wali Khairzada, an Afghan immigrant who came to Seattle in 1981 by way of New York City, where his attendance at NYU was halted when the communist overthrow of the Afghan king froze his family’s assets. While on the East Coast, he sought political asylum and began working in a New Jersey restaurant where he found his footing in food. By 1992 Khairzada found himself managing a then two-year-old Kabul and, after gradually purchasing shares of the restaurant over the years, he took full ownership in 2000. He and his son, who began working at Kabul when he was 17, can often be found in front of house, priming Kabul to be a multi-generational family business.
My introduction to the place was via Seattle rock band King Youngblood—they were absolutely insistent we conduct our interview at Kabul. Last year the band—vocalist and guitarist Cameron Lavi-Jones, drummer Paul “Sticks” Stoot, bassist Samy Garcia, and cellist Chet Peterson—rose to national prominence when they released their album Big Thank. It earned them press from Alternative Press, Under the Radar, AFROPUNK, and Billboard. They take the spirit of '90s alt-rock and polish it with genre-bending Gen Z zeal.
Over dinner, Chet, accessorized with very next-gen Seattle pearls and a chain wallet, casually stated he's been working in studios for 15 years, which is impressive by any stretch but even more so when you consider he’s just 21 years old. His father is multi-platinum musician and producer Philip Peterson who's provided cello and string arrangements for Taylor Swift, Lorde, Nas, St. Vincent, Haim, and Nada Surf, among others. Chet began turning knobs in his dad's studio House of Breaking Glass as soon as his hand-eye coordination kicked in, and he picked up the cello at age 5.
Both Lavi-Jones and Chet represent second-generation Bumbershoot performers. Lavi-Jones's parents—Lara Lavi and Maurice Jones Jr.—are musicians, too, and Lavi-Jones also picked up their passion for social justice and activism. In 2020 King Youngblood founded the mental health nonprofit Hold Your Crown, which promotes youth mental health initiatives. Lavi-Jones's family has been long-time friends of the Khairzadas, and Kabul is where countless family celebrations have taken place.
“When the Lavi-Joneses roll in, we are just two Brown families catching up,” he said. Lavi-Jones had his bar mitzvah there and he plans on having his wedding reception there, too… when he finds a bride.
The bandmates cop to being “foodies,” and it's not just nostalgia that brings them back to Kabul, it’s the kitchen. I am ashamed to say I was really ignorant of Afghan cuisine going in—I wrongly assumed it was mostly kebabs and hummus. What I found was nuanced and perfected preparation that has kept the place in business since Kurt Cobain was alive.
We started with the bolani. These chewy treasures (think samosas without the puff in the pastry) are stuffed with heavenly seasoned potatoes, cilantro, and scallions, then topped with an unforgettable garlicky yogurt sauce that's so tangy and tasty you’ll want to slather it all over the rest of your meal.
The kebabs are also killer. Both the lamb and chicken benefited from what I assume was long, flavorful marination, and they boasted that caramelized kiss that meat gets when it touches fire just right. The star of the menu, though, is the ashak, which can only be described as reverse-engineered lasagna. It’s a pasta dish unlike any I’ve had before. Dumplings are made with wheat-based pasta that gives the chewy properties of a rice paper wrap, and each piece is stuffed with fresh cilantro and scallions, whose flavors seep into the pasta when cooked. The dish is then topped with a tangy tomato-based red almost Italian-style gravy, deeply seasoned beef, and more of that addictive garlicky yogurt sauce. There is so much happening in each bite, that I was tempted to order two—one to gleefully scarf down and another to savor.
And scarf we did, as King Youngblood are still growing boys, and also fans of weed. Before our meal we prepared our palates with Falcanna’s Fancies, hash-infused flower joints in Purple Royal Kush. They come in a convenient 3 x .33 gram package and hit hard. Kush is native to Afghanistan but it's not a light subject to chat about over dinner. Khairzada informed me that due to the Russian and American military invasions and occupations, pot is politically fraught, taking some of the joy out of the Kush origin story.
Lavi-Jones, who is Cali sober (no booze, just weed), described the joints as the perfect meal prep, and Chet, a dedicated smoker, gave the strain a thumbs up. Lavi-Jones remembered the time he tried to play high on his 21st birthday, which led to him questioning aloud into a mic how his fingers were able to play notes.
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They are both of the first generation of Seattleites to have access to legal weed as long as they have been of legal consumption age, which they credit to a very specific energy at their shows. A weed-smoking crowd gives off a completely different vibe than one full of folks drinkin' booze, they say, and it has become their favorite way to kick it post-show or when they need “clean ears” to focus on a project. Which is a solidly professional take for a band of under 25 years old to take.
When I was their age I was, um, less professional when running the onsite office at Bumbershoot, then in its late-’90s heyday. This year Bumbershoot is back for its 50th anniversary, but with new leadership. Much like King Youngblood, it's set on revitalizing and reinventing your '90s rock experience. You can see for yourself if both succeed when King Youngblood play the festival on Sunday.
King Youngblood play Bumbershoot Sunday, September 3 at 1:45 pm on the Mural Stage.
They're also playing Black & Loud Fest Saturday, September 23, at the Crocodile.