Keep Calm & CARDAMOM On

One lovely thing about Northeast Florida is its diversity. Between excellent Indian food and Asian grocery stores, it’s easy to find interesting eats. When Afghani restaurant Ariana Kabob & Grill, came across my radar, I beelined to the Atlantic Boulevard spot.

The intimate space was filled with delicious scents, making me regret not knowing about it sooner. Owners Younus Zury and Nahida Zury have created a welcoming atmosphere. Nahida, the force behind the food, has more than 20 years’ experience, having previously owned a restaurant in Pennsylvania.

Start with Mantu ($5.50/10), house-made steamed dumplings filled with onions and ground beef, topped with yogurt and served with a red sauce rich with peas and ground beef.

Raise your hand if you love eggplant! Mediterranean food is quite vegetarian-friendly and usually rife with eggplant. We chose Baba Ghanoush ($3.50/$5) and Banjon Borani (small $9/large $11.50) for our eggplant extravaganza.

Baba Ghanoush is a smoky eggplant spread with tahini lemon, garlic and a generous olive oil pour. Don’t play around — get the large. The thinly sliced eggplant, tomato and sweet peppers are arranged in gorgeous layers that would make a proper ratatouille wink appreciatively. The vegetables are soaked in a tomato-based sauce that you want to put on everything. As a finishing touch, the layers are drizzled with creamy yogurt sauce that cuts the acidity. The basket of warm pita bread definitely came in handy.

Don’t worry, meat-eaters, there’s plenty for you, too. Lamb Sabzi Chalau ($13.50) was hands-down one of our favorites. Think bites of tender lamb in a rich, stewed spinach base served with white rice. (“Chalau” means white rice.) This dish is a marriage of cultures; if you’re familiar with Indian cuisine, it will invoke recollections of the creamy texture and savory flavor of Saag Paneer.

Qabili Palau Chicken ($12; lamb $13.50) is one of the most popular items on the menu. I was excited to try the chicken version, which is topped with a mixture of sweet shredded carrots and raisins and roasted with lovely spices like cardamom. I must confess, I found the sweet and savory component a little strange, but if you like a little sweet with your salt, this may be your dish.

Heads up: There are options for the less-adventurous among you. Chicken nugs for kiddos and a steak sandwich for that pal who wanted Mexican again.

For the rest of us, the falafel platter ($11) is always the perfect lunch. This golden-brown vegetarian nugget of joy with ground chickpeas, parsley and onions, includes three sides: hummus, tabouli and rice. Ariana’s version was flavorful, but a little too crispy for my taste. However, the slightly nutty, creamy tahini sauce was just what the crunchy exterior needed.

Use an extra pita triangle to play with the flavors on your plate, scoop up baba ghanoush and banjon sauce, and then throw a falafel in the mix. You’ll be surprised — and pleased — at how well the different flavors work together.