Across the street from a masjid, Minar-e-Pakistan looms into view, the smell of savory Lahori dishes lure passerbys. We are outside Lahori Chaska--a brand new restaurant --not in Bhatti Gate, Lahore, but Gwynn Oak, MD, which is strung with fairy lights on this chilly December evening.
Inside the warm restaurant is filled with the who’s who of Baltimore’s scholars, imams, and daees as they greet the restaurateurs: Chef Muhammad Imran Zia and his brother, Dr. Wasieem Wajahat, who will manage the restaurant.
“We will find halal and pure food here,” prayed Qari Zahid of Islamic Society of Baltimore. Dua was made by the father of the owners, Tariq Zia, for the success of the business. Zahid Hussain, editor of Dunya News, advised the brothers to maintain service and quality of ingredients for success in the long run.
The guests were served chicken biryani and with green raita. Pakistani handicrafts and kites adorn the walls. There is a large indo-pakistani community in the Baltimore City and Baltimore County area.
“Our main target market is not just the desi community, we want to be mainstream,” says Dr. Wajahat.
In 2003, Chef Imran started his a small business by providing samosas to local restaurants and then started catering weddings, dinners, and local food festivals. Making a name for himself, he was soon supplying halal meat to different stores. “It is my passion and hobby and I made it my profession.”
Imran is not a trained chef but he has honed his recipes and techniques through the years, experimenting and reinventing age old recipes. “He loves to cook,” shares his brother. “He can whip up something extraordinary in minutes.”
Having catered events up and down the east coast from North Carolina, West Virginia to New York and New Jersey, he makes his own masalas. Inspired by his mother’s cooking, he likes experimenting. “My father is also a great cook; eating good food is my hobby, I like to try it and then to make it. Pakistani favorites like Salt and Pepper Restaurant and Ravi Restaurant in Faisal Town, Lahore and Shahbaz Tikka in Gujranwala still tingle his taste buds.
“I cater weddings and aqeeqah, that is my bread and butter,” Imran chimes in. Imran's mobile catering services offers a mobile truck with a full line kitchen that rolls up to your event. Having served 4000-5000 people in events in New Jersey to setting up stalls on Pakistan Day in Virginia to Six Flags Muslim Day, his main business is still catering and he aims to keep serving his clientele.
The duo took a Korean restaurant Teriyaki Point and converted it. Pakistani handicrafts and kites hang on the wals. He is training sous chefs and helpers. “It’s all teamwork,” syas Dr. Wajahat.
The restaurant promises a taste of home in ‘pardes’. A favorite on the catering scene for several years, Imran promises quality and authenticity. The owners hope to host an open barbecue advertised as live BBQ, so they can serve kebabs and tikka fresh off the coals outdoors- Pakistani style.“We want to make a place where people can gather.”
Aside from the usual fare of biryani and tikkas, the restaurant promises some authentic Lahori dishes like full bakra (goat/lamb) roast and the whole chargha (deep fried chicken) everyday. And specialities not found anywhere else in the U.S., such as their Machli kebabs which are neither fish nor kebabs, but steamed lamb shanks made from the tenderest part of the tendon of the leg of mutton or lamb. The succulent piece of mutton are marinated, dipped in a secret coating fired and then steamed.
20 minutes from the Grand Trunk Road, the brothers are from the Shad Bagh area in the northern part of Lahore, which is known for its haleem. Haleem is a meat and grains stew- slow cooked. Lahori Chaska plans on serving haleem and fresh naan everyday.
Meat is delivered from local butchers;”in the near future we hope to work with Imam Javid from Simply Natural to provide tayyib, natural, pure, as well as 100% zabihah halal meat,” shared Chef Imran.
“I want to send leftover food to a homeless shelter. If I can find an association that can take the proper precautions and pick up the food, made fresh daily, we would not have to throw it away in the garbage,” hopes Chef Imran
“I am going to go pray Asr, can you make me 2 seekh kebabs and a naan and I will eat it when I get back,” a single brother orders and starts to leave for the masjid across the street. “Pray for me too, brother!” asks Chef Imran. A few weeks after the opening he says the response is “beyond [his] thoughts and efforts.” With half and hour to an hour waiting time, the restaurant is luring halal food connoisseurs from far and wide. Chef Imran is already planning an 1200 sqft extension to accommodate families and cater to sisters in hijab and purdah.
Summer is the time when he will start the live BBQ.
On weekends, they serve breakfast all day: nihari (slow cooked beef stew), halwa puri (spicy chick peas, crispy fried bread and semolina pudding), paya and haleem. Kashmiri chai is on tap all day, every day.
Gajar ka halwa (sweetened carrots cooked in milk), kheer (rice pudding), gulab jamun (sweet dumplings in syrup), ras malai (balls of paneer served in clotted cream), zarda (sweet rice) are desserts served at Lahori Chaska and warmer weather will bring cold treats-kulfi and falooda.
Repeat customers are already in line--back for more-- addicted to the Lahori Chaska – the taste of Lahore.
Lahori Chaska is located on 5808 Johnnycake Rd, Gwynn Oak, MD. Hours: 11 am to 10 pm (M-Th) (Friday 11-11) Sat & Sun (10 am - 11 p.m) Phone: (410) 788-6078