Review: Kabab Express brings authentic Indian to Decatur


Last year, I had the good fortune of eating my way around Delhi, India, for a couple of days. Thankfully, my guide, Manjeet, was a fellow food lover — not at all shy about navigating the crowded, labyrinthine nooks and crannies of the old city in pursuit of vegetarian parathas, chicken tikka and samosas fried in hot oil while we watched.

Back home, I never imagined I’d find anything to compare to this. Then I discovered Kabab Express in Decatur.

After sampling this 10-month-old, family-owned restaurant’s Indian-Pakistani-style seekh kebabs, I knew I’d found a spot as authentic and satisfying as anything I encountered during my ramble around the north of India.

Situated in a Church Street shopping center anchored by a Patel Brothers supermarket, Kabab Express is an essential destination for lovers of the complex and wildly colorful food that is a staple of South Asian halal kitchens.

Here, beef, lamb, goat and chicken are king. If you are looking for vegetarian Indian, there are plenty of options in this same shopping center, which is home to Chat Patti Indian Vegetarian Restaurant and Gokul Sweets & Pure Veg. Restaurant.

But in this strip of Indian jewelry stores, bazaars, salons and halal butcher shops, Kabab Express is the place for solid chicken tikka (plain or rolled up in flatbread); delicious biryanis and kormas; thick, sweet mango lassis; and — hold me back — the so-called “Indo-Pak” kebabs.

Unlike the more familiar shish kebab, in which cubes of meat are threaded on skewers and grilled, this version calls for mixing minced meat with fragrant spices, molding it into sausage-shaped tubes around a skewer, and grilling. When done right, the meat sticks have a tender, juicy, melt-in-the-mouth quality that is unparalleled. And Kabab Express, a humble little establishment with a walk-up counter, a scattering of tables and a sky-blue ceiling painted with stars, nails it.

“I could eat it every night,” my worldly dining companion said one night. Together we had just inhaled a platter of the restaurant’s beef seekh kebabs, oohing and aahing and smacking our lips.

At $6.99, the dish — which comes with saffron-and-cardamom-scented basmati rice; slices of raw onion; a scoop of cucumber and tomato salad; mint sauce; and a wedge of lemon — has to be one of the best values around.

Though the lamb seekh kebabs are also quite good ($8.99), I prefer the beef. (Don’t do red meat? Then try the chicken.) In any case, you’ll find the kebabs, which over the centuries have journeyed from the Middle East to India to America, an elemental, soul-satisfying way to dine.

When placing your order, take note of the list of so-called “gravy” specials. If you like sopping your Indian stews with naan bread, these intensely flavorful concoctions will make you very happy.

Though I liked the gently prickly, turmeric-yellow Butter Chicken Gravy just fine, I had trouble pushing back the Shahi Mutton Korma. It may not be the prettiest dish in the Kabab Express repertoire, but it was the headiest thing I tried. The sloppy Joe texture made it perfect for scooping up with the warm, poofy naan — or spooning over the plate of fluffy basmati rice that comes on the side.

Among the chicken dishes, the Chicken 65, a battered-and-deep-fried classic that gets its bright-red sheen from a blast of chile peppers, was appealing and delicious, especially when dunked into the cooling raita accompaniment. Still, it can hardly rival the standard-setting version I fell in love with at Zyka, just across the street, lo so many years ago.

The Chicken Tikka Roll, a flatbread wrap overflowing with big chunks of the yogurt, ginger, garlic and spice-marinated bird, is just the thing for holding in your hand and eating on the run: good, cheap, filling. Like so much of the fare here, though, it’s aggressively spicy. Personally, I like my tikka sauce a bit more soothing and creamy.

That the vegetarian dishes are listed last among the specials gives you a sense of the hierarchy of proteins here.

We enjoyed the paneer tava: cubes of Indian cheese in a fiery-red, tandoori-like sauce that’s very naan-friendly. There was also a chickpea stew (kabuli chana), which we never got a chance to taste, and a dish of sauteed chile peppers, which the clerk seemed to think might incinerate our Western taste buds.

No alcohol is served at Kabab Express, just soft drinks, water and mango lassis. The lassis are lovely but can be too dense to travel up a straw. So maybe stick with agua, or pop open a can of ultra-limey Limca. If beer’s your thing, you’ve got the perfect argument for takeout.

Kabab Express, I’m happy to report, is a neighborhood gem. It may require you to use unwieldy plastic utensils and eat off Styrofoam plates. So what?

The food is fresh, made to order, and good for you: if you believe in a time-honored balanced diet of protein, grains, veggies.

Should my Indian tour guide, Manjeet, ever take me up on my invitation to visit, I’d probably want him to try our Southern fried chicken and collard greens first.

But if he ever got homesick, I know just where I’d take him.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

Everything can be good to the last drop when you're resourceful
Everything can be good to the last drop when you're resourceful

"I saved this in case you want to use it for something," my husband, Braeden, says multiple times a week. Sometimes he's holding a jar of honey, empty save for the sticky bits clinging to the sides. Other days it's a bottle of barbecue sauce with an infuriating amount left at the bottom that refuses to squeeze out. Sure, we could rinse and...
A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love
A quarter sheet pan is plenty big enough to hold all my love

Nobody would mistake me for being hip and trendy. I have been wearing clogs - not the same pair, mind you - since the Ford administration. Yet I am YASSing and inserting heart emoji on behalf of the quarter sheet pan, which is surfing a wave of popularity. Deservedly so. There it is on social media, roasting a one-pan meal for two. Toasting a handful...
Team behind Illegal Foods opening new restaurant and other top metro Atlanta dining news from the week
Team behind Illegal Foods opening new restaurant and other top metro Atlanta dining news from the week

Here are the stories that made a splash in the Atlanta food world this week. The Hank at Illegal Food / Photo: Todd Brock After the sudden closure of Illegal Food last year , the team behind that Virginia-Highland restaurant is gearing up to open another eatery. Steven Lingenfelter confirmed in an email that Mouth of the South is opening...
Beer Pick: SweetWater 21st Anniversary Oud Bruin
Beer Pick: SweetWater 21st Anniversary Oud Bruin

Credit: SweetWater Brewing Co. Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Co. celebrates turning 21 on Saturday with rocking party at the brewery featuring live music from Dirty Heads, Twiddle, People’s Blues of Richmond, and Bird Dog Jubilee. But for beer geeks, the big news is the release of 21st Anniversary Oud Bruin, which will...
A new coffee shop is coming to Grant Park
A new coffee shop is coming to Grant Park

Blue Donkey Coffee is based in Atlanta. / Photo from the Blue Donkey Facebook page A Grant Park multi-use residential building is getting a new spot for coffee. Blue Donkey Coffee, which both roasts and serves coffee, is set to open another location in The George at 275 Memorial Drive this year, What Now Atlanta first reported. The new...
More Stories