What happens when four service-industry friends in the Bay Area decide to open a restaurant together? Well, they move to Portland, of course, where they can actually afford to. Bob Dietrich and three of his Pakistani friends, all from the Bay Area, moved into a house in Hillsboro and in August opened K2 Kebab—a bustling Pakistani-Indian restaurant on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard.
K2 Kebab is halal, which is in many ways the Islamic counterpart to kosher. It excludes pork, carnivorous animals and alcohol. This means that your pre-dinner cocktail at K2 will be MIA, unless it's NA. Mango lassi ($3), anyone?
Every table in the minimally decorated dining room is equipped with two squeeze bottles of puréed chutneys—a sweet and ruddy tamarind and a yogurty mint jalapeño—that go well with the heaping plate of potato-and-onion pakoras ($3), the traditional papadam ($2) and those pockets of curried perfection—samosas ($4). Crisp and golden on the outside and steamy potato peas-y on the inside, the samosas arrive coupled with a ladleful of sweet-and-spicy curried chickpeas studded with peppercorns and mustard seeds.
Head chef Feroz Jalal cooks the namesake kebabs (chicken, lamb or fish) to perfection over a gas grill in the exposed kitchen. The lambchop kebabs ($10)—four to an order—are marinated and rubbed in garam masala spices and arrive glistening, sprinkled with red onions and cilantro. They are lightly charred on the outside and pretty pink on the inside.
Since Dietrich, the owner, is usually the only server at this consistently busy restaurant with 40-plus seats, plates often linger on tables well after meals have been finished. Luckily, the spanking-fresh, nuanced food makes K2's service shortage forgivable.
Choose from about as many vegetarian options as meat options. The palak paneer ($8) stands out with soft, well spiced spinach laden with ghee but still bright green and full of bite, with fresh cheese incorporated at the last moment. It stands in stark contrast to other local renditions, which leave their greens to wither away and overcook on the steam table.
The most popular lamb curry is the bhuna gosht ($8.50), which contains large hunks of tender lamb in a velvety, rich tomato curry. This is a dish that you have to order naan ($1.50) and basmati rice ($2) with in order to soak up the outstanding sauce.
A word of K2 Kebab caution—many dishes are finished with a dusting of pungent chili powder. Although the powder is very tasty, it's an absolute nose nightmare when inhaled, so sniff from a safe distance.
Desserts have been consistently 86'd as of late because the front-of-the-house refrigerator is on the blink. As K2 works out staffing kinks, shortcomings such as these are sure to become a thing of the past. At this point, just remember that the food, like Pakistan's own K2—the second highest mountain in the world—is all too often sublime and well worth the trek.
K2 Kebab, 3962-C SE Hawthorne Blvd., 236-4900. Lunch 11 am-3 pm and dinner 5-9:30 pm Tuesday-Sunday. $ Inexpensive.