Indian/Pakistani – Pakiza Restaurant – 1011 N Orleans St – Near North Side – ***
In most cases, getting some extra face time with the CEO of your company should be seen as a good thing for one’s career. So, why was I more than a little nervous when the head of my company surprisingly opted to join the group of coworkers I had invited to try one of my cab driver recommendations? If you’ve been reading Chicago Cab Fare for a while, you’ll know it’s common for the stops on my list to be the kinds of hole-in-the-wall dives you don’t typically plan to take someone with such influence on your livelihood. In particular, the restaurant I’d chosen – Pakiza – certainly didn’t look like much from the outside, and its three Yelp reviews did little to inspire confidence.
In the end, though, my worries were completely unwarranted. Yes, Pakiza is a dive. Yes, the cleanliness of the bathroom was on par with the Port-O-Potties at Lollapalooza. But the food was pretty good, and nobody called in sick the next day. I’ve got to consider that a success. Like most restaurants targeting Chicago’s cab-driving population, Pakiza is just as much a social club as it is a restaurant. There’s a pool table, a couple ’80s era video games, and a mini convenience store. Also true to form, Pakiza doesn’t have a printed menu or servers, so you’ll have to bear with me on not having exact names for dishes.
We decided to go with four entrees for our party of four, a standard chicken biriyani, fish curry, sarson ka saag, and something with lamb in gravy. We also got an unnecessarily large quantity of naan. All told, our bill came to a little more than $10 per person.
The hits of the night were the sarson ka saag and chicken biriyani. The sarson ka saag is a spicy spinach dish that was significantly thicker than similar dishes I’ve had at other IndoPak restaurants. In fact, the texture was almost more like a paste than similar dishes at other restaurants. The heat was also unexpected. It seriously built throughout the meal. By the time we were getting ready to leave, everyone in our party was wiping the sweat from their brow. The surprising kick of that dish was also present in the chicken biriyani. Everyone toughed it out, though, because the rice was seasoned exceptionally well. This was the one dish we polished off completely.
The lamb in gravy (can’t remember the specific name) reminded me nehari and was the most polarizing item of the night. On one hand the curry-based gravy was flavorful, with a pleasant sweetness which complemented the evening’s other offerings. On the other hand, there was a serious lack of lamb. I expect to have some bones in my food when I eat at an authentic ethnic restaurant, but there was barely any meat for us to pick off here. Even still, this was one of everyone’s favorite places to dip our naan.
The fish curry, unfortunately, was barely touched. Not only would three entrees have been more than enough food for the the four of us, the dish had a somewhat unsettling odor our CEO described as funky. Still, I gave it a shot. I found the fish itself to taste a bit off, perhaps just from a lack of freshness, and the sauce didn’t do much to save it.
All-in-all, Pakiza is fine if you’re looking for some quick, cheap IndoPak food to pick up on your way home from work, but it you’d be better served stopping at the nearby Tabaq or Baba Palace. If you do decide to go, just don’t plan on bringing a date. Or your boss.