This slice-sized restaurant on a prime stretch of 1st Avenue in the East Village offers up Uzbek and Uyghur cuisine that typically requires trekking to the outskirts of the city to try. Inside, it boasts fast casual with its graffitied walls and expendable take-out menus in which watered-down descriptors elude the native names, replaced with comprehendable culinary monikers like "baked beef buns." Skim too quickly and you might miss the plov, so quintessential to Uzbek cuisine it's been crowned the country's signature dish. Here its bears the restaurant's name, slapped under the category of "rice bowl." I can forgive the coattail-riding though of the pseudo-salad-cum-portable-grains trend, if it means attracting Instagrammy levels of awareness to what is a supremely flavorful, yet accessible dish. A self-documented rice-hater, I wish I had this stowed away in the fridge, or on a continuous warm for me in the large cauldron. Rice should always be this delectable: gently firm and dressed with an emollient slick of lamb and tender forkfuls of meat. It's strewn with a medley of carrots, chickpeas, and raisins, neither after-thought nor distraction.
I delighted in the delight of my dining companion, as he tucked into the combination of flavors--coriander, cumin-- as yet unexperienced by him. Most of the food Afhandi are par for the course; better renditions of some things are to be had elsewhere—but that can be a miles aways.
Perhaps inspired by the ridiculousness down the street, manti dumplings are advertised as "monster." But the Uzbek dish is neither liquid-filled nor behemoth. Instead its ugly-delicious interior (chopped beef and onion may not look like much) belies the sneaking cumin and spice.
If it's soup you want, try lamian, a classic Uyghur dish that's as informed by Central Asian as well as Chinese cuisine. Toothsome handpulled noodles look like waves in a broth more vegetal than animal. Thickly tomato-y with onions, peppers, and celery. A bit like a sofrito, a handful of aromatics yielding a genteel and warming pleasure.
Carrot salad is mostly tang, little if any garlic, and barely sweet (a good thing). This dish, often labeled "Korean Carrot salad" can be found as Russian spots, perhaps created by Korean immigrants there or named because of its pickled influence. Always essential an vinegary-pop for counterbalance the red meat.
To both my shock and dismay, the mini-fried dumplings (chuchvara, questionably named midget dumplings online) arrived deep-fried, an unnecessary gimmick when a quick burnish would do, robbing me of that perfect moment of sinking my teeth into flour wrapper.
But, back to those baked beef buns. More chopped beef and onions, now encased in a buttery dough, the samsas here are superior to all i've had, deserving to stand proud among the city’s greater savory-filled pastries.
The euphemistic menu I understand are meant breed familiarity and draw in palate-shy customers from a marketer's point of view. But this short-hand move might cut both ways, denuding the restaurant to fit into the ubiquitous landscape of generally "ethnic" eats in a neighborhood bustling with options. Discerning eaters should seek out Afandi for Uzbek and Ughyer cuisine, as should the curious. They will be rewarded.