Located in Fremont’s Centerville district near the intersection of Fremont Boulevard and Peralta Boulevard, the Salang Pass looks like just another restaurant in a row of shops along Fremont’s main road, but a closer inspection reveals a jewel in the crown of Fremont’s culinary scene.
My parents, Shelagh and Keith, have been making the trek out to Fremont from Pleasanton for many years now, alternating visits between Salang Pass and Fremont’s other culinary gem, the no-nonsense Indian / Pakistani establishment Shalimar.
However, this was only my second visit to the restaurant itself after having sampled the leftover chicken and lamb kebabs on many visits home in the past. We went this past Saturday in celebration of Small Business Day and unfortunately, the restaurant was mostly empty during the early afternoon hours. The restaurant is split into two halves, with traditional Afghani floor seating on one side and regular tables and chairs on the other.
The restaurant décor is immaculate; apart from the numerous pillows for the sitting diners and the authentic Afghani artifacts dotted around the dining room, there’s a huge colorful mural encompassing the wall and finely detailed fabrics hanging from the rafters.
It’s an impressive sight, which creates an intimate, cosy dining environment that’s perfect for a dinner date with a significant other.
We ordered three appetizers, the bolani (an Afghani style calzone filled with chopped leeks, potatoes, cilantro and special seasonings, grilled and served with yogurt), the pakawra (similar to Indian pakora: sliced potatoes deep fried in a seasoned batter, garnished with lemon), and the aushak (Afghani style ravioli stuffed with leeks, topped with a rich tomato ground beef sauce and presented with a special yogurt). They were all outstanding, and almost a meal by themselves.
The pakawra were my favorite: crispy, crunchy, and when sprinkled with the juice from the lemon wedge, absolutely delicious.
The bolani was excellent; the potatoes and onions inside the light flatbread, were complimented by the homemade yogurt and the spicy, sweet house red pepper sauce.
The timing was perfect between the appetizers and the entree, allowing us plenty of time to enjoy the starters.
The entrees arrived in due course, and we all opted for the kebab plate.
I had the Combination Kebab, three pieces of charbroiled, seasoned chicken and three tender lamb chops, marinated in onions and spices and served on the bone, garnished with grilled tomato, lemon, and brown basmati rice.
The presentation was appealing, and the food itself was hot and fresh. The service was just OK, not particularly engaging or friendly, but the food all arrived when it was supposed to, as did the removal of the plates afterwards.
Somehow my parents found room for dessert, and they enjoyed a bowl of the homemade ice cream, flavored with rosewater and cardamom and garnished with chopped pistachios.
It’s one of the highlights of the Salang Pass experience and comes highly recommended. There’s also a homemade cheesecake, pudding, and baklava available. The restaurant serves soft drinks only, but you are allowed to bring in wine or beer to enjoy with your meal.
Unfortunately, the restaurant does not seem to take the matter of cleanliness very seriously.
There was a black mark on my bread plate, and the hot sauce jars were very grungy indeed, giving the impression that they were not cleaned regularly if at all. Even the serving spoons inside the jars had a greasy texture to them.
During my check of the restroom, there was a puddle of water on the floor next to the sink, surely an easy cleanup at best and a potential hazard at worse, and the facilities themselves were not particularly clean.
It’s a shame, as the food is so good it’s easy to forgive such shortcomings, but it can never be used as an excuse especially with the sort of reputation that a restaurant like Salang Pass has.
LIKES – Outstanding food quality: fresh, tasty, and addicting. An exceptional array of different tastes for the discerning palette. Appetizers in particular stand out, the bolani and pakawra were excellent. Good portions, kebabs cooked perfectly. A gold star for the chef!
DISLIKES – Bathrooms dirty and hazardous. Condiment jars didn’t appear to have been cleaned since the Fourth of July. A little too cold inside the restaurant considering the temperatures outside. Service was just OK.
37462 Fremont Boulevard, Fremont.
5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Monday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday.
Street parking available, small lot behind restaurant.
All meat is Halal. Cash and credit cards accepted. www.salangrestaurant.com