Set in an unassuming strip mall, Babur Garden Afghan Cuisine in Ocean is also unassuming – at first. When you walk in, you’ll find the walls decorated with beautiful and intricate rugs that I later found out are handmade in Afghanistan, taking two women over two years to finish. Strewn in between the rugs are photos of Afghanistan, pictures of beautiful mosques, mountains, and landscapes. In addition to the light décor, there’s a faint aroma of spices that makes my stomach rumble.
After sitting down, our waiter brings us fresh hot naan, right out of the tandoor. Once you sit down, your waiter throws the dough into the hot tandoor in the back and then brings it directly to your table two minutes later. Accompanying the naan are three sauces: a yogurt dill sauce, a spicier green chutney, and a red chutney that hits a number of taste buds. We try the yogurt sauce first, very reminiscent of tzatziki sauce. Light and refreshing. Then move onto the green chutney, my favorite, and the best hot sauce I’ve ever tried, the red chutney.
The Babur Garden menu features Halal cuisine. The menu is filled with tasty and exotic meat (organic and grass fed, traditional kabobs, and vegetarian dishes. From Bulanee Kachalou, a turnover stuffed with potatoes, herbs and spices, to Sambosas, Tandoori Chicken, and Mantu, every dish screams flavor. All the items on the menu from the appetizers to the desserts are made from scratch using family recipes.
Babur Garden isn’t the Ahmady family’s first foray into the restaurant industry. Owner Abdul Ahmady has been involved in the industry for 45 years, first as a bartender at the legendary Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant in New York City, then as a manager at O’Henry’s Steakhouse also in New York, and then as an owner of Hickory Pet on Manhattan’s east side. Now, Abdul, his son Omar, and the rest of the family are sharing their cuisine with Monmouth County locals who had no idea what they were missing before Babur Garden opened its doors.
“This is like our home,” says Omar Ahmady, who shared that one of them is usually in the back cooking or out in the front greeting their customers.
“One of us is always here,” says Abdul.
After realizing that we’re going to have to make multiple trips back to taste everything, we decide to start our meal with an appetizer of Buranee Kadu, which is cooked butternut squash prepared with garlic and special spices, then topped with yogurt and mint. It arrives hot and even has a touch of Italian flavor to it. It’s light, healthy, and really delicious. At first the tomato sauce threw me off, but it turned out to be an acidic welcome.
Now onto the main course. I ordered the vegetarian dish, Baunjaun, which features eggplant sautéed with onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and seasoning with a serving of sabzi or spinach rice. My husband ordered the chicken tikka kabob with chunks of dark meat marinated and grilled in fresh spices with a side of special spicy Afghan yellow rice. (Side note, it makes me proud when he orders dark meat instead of white). To start, we’re given a cup of lentil soup – delicious (even though we hear that the cauliflower soup is so popular that people order buckets of it), then a refreshing bowl of salad with raw cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, parsley, and fresh coriander. I’m a huge fan of both the soup and the salad, and recommend adding some spicy red chutney into the lentil soup.
The only problem I have right about now is that I’m almost full. And I have yet to start eating my main course. Soon after, our entrees arrive and they’re spectacular. The colors of the chicken tikka kabob are droolworthy, while my Baunjaun dish looks just as tempting. We dig in and aren’t disappointed. The eggplant is filling and goes well with the accompanying yogurt sauce. The chicken is cooked to perfection. I wish I had room for dessert at this point, but I’ll have to be content with the leftovers I’m carrying home.
Babur Garden is open for lunch and dinner, accommodating large parties and offering catering services. If that isn’t enough to keep the Ahmady family busy, they’re also spicing up the Monmouth Mall food court with Babur Garden Express that is set to open soon. The outpost will offer a similar menu to Babur Garden in Ocean with the addition of everyone’s favorite sandwich, the gyro.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional kabob or just a flavorful home cooked meal that you can’t find anywhere else, Babur Garden has it all. But be careful, once you go there, you’ll keep going back again and again.
Babur Garden Afghan Cuisine
845 West Park Avenue
Babur Garden Express
Monmouth Mall (in the food court)