Helmand Palace

Bryan Peck

Helmand Palace

By Amy Sherman

Helmand Province is one of the most beautiful regions of Afghanistan, irrigated by the long Helmand River. Likewise, the Helmand Palace restaurant is something of an oasis on a busy stretch of Van Ness; an inviting dining room welcomes with a regal color palate of rich reds, golds and blues, white tablecloths, soft lighting, Afghan rugs, elegantly framed artwork and always-smiling servers. Though a fairly small restaurant, it’s equally suited to date nights or small groups. Afghani food seems at once familiar and exotic, perhaps because it’s a blend of Persian and South Asian flavors. Meals always start out with warm flatbread and a trio of chutneys for you to dip into while you ponder the menu. Lamb features prominently on the menu, and is served braised, grilled or sautéed, but each vegetarian dish has a distinct flavor and texture too, from melting eggplant to earthy spinach to sautéed succulent okra and tomatoes. Often a combination of sauces—a rich meaty ragu and a tangy yogurt sauce, or garlic, mint and split pea add complexity to everything from a sweet-savory pumpkin dish to ravioli filled with a combination of springy leeks and scallions. Desserts are large enough for sharing, especially the creamy feereny pudding topped with a rainbow of fresh fruit.

sweet seats

There are plenty of cozy tables for two, but head to the back if you are looking for a space to accommodate a larger group.

chew on this

The hand-painted mural on the wall does not depict a scene in Afghanistan, but rather Babylonia; it’s left over from the former tenant, an Iraqi restaurant.


Sun.–Thurs. 5:30 PM–10 PM; Fri.–Sat. 5:30–11 PM

price range

$11.95 (vegetarian kourma challow) to $22.95 (half rack of lamb)