A while back I tried afghan food for the first time and I LOVED it. I went to Faryab in Bethesda, which despite having no website and a hard to find location made it into the Washingtonian's top 100 restaurants. That was a fantastic place to try afghan food for the first time, but certainly a tough act to follow. A recent Washingtonian article mentioned Panjshir in Falls Church, which is much closer to me, so I was really excited to try it. I ordered a selection of dishes (for take-out), and while the food was not as good as the food at Faryab, it was still pretty decent and certainly much more convenient for me.
I ordered both the Aushak (scallion) and Mantoo (beef) dumpling appetizers. The Mantoo were much better in my opinion, as the Aushak had way too much dried mint flakes on top that overpowered anything else. Both came with a tangy yogurt sauce that was quite good.
I ordered a kebab for Jasper and the Kadu Palow (stewed pumpkin and lamb with yogurt sauce and spinach rice) for myself. The Kadu (pumpkin) dishes are usually the most popular dishes at Afghan restaurants, and for good reason. The pumpkin was sweet and tender, and a great balance for the slightly spicy lamb and the tangy sauce; the spinach rice was fluffy and had great flavor. This was definitely my favorite dish.
All of the vegetarian entrees are available in side portions as well and I wanted to try several of them. Luckily, Panjshir offers a "vegetarian combo" entree where you have three side sized portions and spinach rice. I choose the Seib (apples with tomatoes, walnuts, prunes, and spices), Shalgam (turnips with tomato, butter, brown sugar, and spices), and Banjan (eggplant). The Seib was definitely my favorite of the three (I really like the sweeter Afghan dishes!) and the Banjan was good, but the Shalgam had a weird aftertaste and I didn't eat much of it.
The large salad that came with the entrees had a nice dressing, but I was too full to eat any of it! Especially because I wanted to save room for dessert: a chilled almond pudding with cardamom, pistachio, and rosewater called Firnee. It was firmer than I expected and had a little bit of a chemical taste, but was still pretty good.
So, the verdict - Panjshir is not up to par with Faryab, but definitely a decent substitution if you live in the area.
Best dishes - Mantoo, Kadu, and Seib
Worst dish - Shalgam