Kamrak Khan of Hasna’s Grill

Khan Do

With many relatives working as doctors, a career in medicine would’ve made sense for Kamran Khan. But he had other ideas.

The owner of Hasna’s Grill, a new Afghan restaurant on Howe Street near Whalley, Khan spends his days in the kitchen. Spices are the key to Afghan cuisine, Khan says, though he won’t disclose exactly which ones he uses. For those who’ve never tried Afghan food before, Khan draws comparisons to Middle Eastern and Turkish cuisine, with a Persian influence.

Hasna’s, New Haven’s only Afghan eatery, offers numerous kebab dishes featuring bite-sized pieces of grilled meat. My favorite was the lamb. Each morsel had a delightful grilled crackle at the edges while retaining a moist texture inside and just a hint of spiciness. The Tandoori Chicken, “marinated with our house special tandoori spices,” according to the menu, was also delicious, with more of a kick.

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Though my sampler was rich with meats, Hasna’s offers some vegetarian options. The Afghani Salad—cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and parsley—offered a refreshingly tangy, crunchy counterpoint to the meat. I also tried the Bonjon: eggplant braised in a spicy tomato-based sauce, giving it a creamy texture outside and a pleasing firmness inside.

No one should miss the Kabilee Pulao, a hearty long grain rice dish with the added sweetness of julienned carrots and raisins, often considered the national dish of Afghanistan. The lentil soup is also a crowd-pleaser, rich and creamy with a textured hint of lentils. Another good entry point to the cuisine is the Beef Chaplee Kabob—a large, thin patty of ground beef, gently marinated—or the Jouja Kabob, “boneless chicken breast marinated in a yogurt based sauce with olive oil.”

Though Khan has obviously given a great deal of thought to the flavors on his menu, he encouraged me to pour both “white sauce” and “green sauce” on my meal and figure out what I liked best. He recommended the white—yogurt-based with a hint of dill—for salad and rice, but I also enjoyed it on the Tandoori Chicken. The green sauce was spicier, fresh and bright and especially nice on a mildly seasoned lamb chop, giving it some extra heat.

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For a sweet finish, Khan brought me his own creation, a fizzy drink he calls “coconut lemon spark.” If you like coconut, this green tea-based soda could be your new favorite, especially in warm weather.

Khan’s creativity shows up not only in the food but in the décor of the dining room. Contemporary, not traditional, it’s meant to be “comfortable and local,” he says. The counter is faced with vertical strips of stonework, lit from the top, a pattern that’s echoed on the wall. An abstract light fixture of concentric white rings hangs in the bright front window. The walls are a soothing shade of gray. Outside, a striking mural painted by Khan’s daughter, Zara, evokes the eyes of a woman gazing from behind a colorful niqab.

Khan grew up in Flushing, Queens, and first entered the restaurant business as the owner of seven Subway stores. Later, he partnered with Salahuddin Mir, who owns Hasna’s Afghan Fusion Cuisine in Waterbury. The New Haven spot, Khan says, has a similar menu, but he aims to give it a more “local” flair, meeting New Haven foodies on their own turf. Unlike its sister restaurant, Hasna’s Grill won’t be offering the “fusion” part, such as burgers, wings and pizza. (If you see such items on the website, that’s because the menu there isn’t accurate.) Khan says one of his aims is to “control the sodium and the oil” sometimes found in traditional recipes for a healthier, fresher experience.

Just as Khan once forged his own path in life, he’s doing the same with Hasna’s, where tradition is an inspiration but not a constraint.

Hasna’s Grill
140 Howe St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm, Sun 11am-9pm
(203) 498-2801

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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