Guardian Goes Global: Soltan Banoo

Guardian Goes Global: Soltan Banoo

Soltan Banoo 2 by TAYLOR SANDERSON

The Guardian samples the world’s cuisine in San Diego.  This week: Iran

Hours:
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location:
4646 Park Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92116

As an Iranian-American most accustomed to my grandmother’s excellent home cooking, I’m a tough critic when it comes to finding Persian food outside of my own home. When I moved to San Diego last fall, I began searching for the perfect, Iranian restaurant in a city virtually unknown to me. Being on a budget (and also a bit lazy), my search came to fruition upon discovering Soltan Banoo in University Heights.

Located on the most populated strip of Park Avenue, Soltan Banoo draws you into its even more charming interior and great food through its curb appeal — silky drapes flow over the entryway, inviting guests inside. Soltan Banoo is one of many tastefully, thematically decorated restaurants in University Heights — which is a great area for shopping and drinks. So popular, in fact, that it’s sometimes tricky to find parking close by.

Soltan Banoo has an outdoor seating area that’s covered and heated during the winter but opens up to the street in the warmer months of the year, allowing customers to sit in the open windowsills to dine and enjoy passersby. Decorated with Persian rugs, ornate calligraphy drawings and various paintings in traditional, Iranian styles, Soltan Banoo leaves patrons feeling like they’re seated in a cozy living room.

Soltan Banoo calls its food “eclectic Persian cuisine,” and its food puts a modern spin on traditional dishes, combining basic elements of classic, Persian cuisine and reinventing them into new foods. The restaurant is known for its Ash Anar ($5.95 per bowl), or pomegranate soup, a food not regularly found in Iran. Yet, it includes pomegranate, an essential item used in Persian cooking, along with barley and lentils, ingredients normally found in most Persian soups. The menu has a full range of kabobs, various types of rice, salads and wraps. The daily specials reflect authentic Persian food more accurately than the rest of the menu, which is a little too “Americanized” for my taste. (Wraps and items such as hummus and tabouli are not customarily served in traditional Persian restaurants.)

I decided to try the daily special, Abgousht ($10.95), a meat stew slow cooked with lamb, chickpeas, potatoes and tomato. My friend ordered the vegan wrap ($6.95) with babaganoush, veggies, avocado and rice inside, served with tabouli salad. While there were only a few customers in the restaurant while we were there, it took a long time for the food to arrive. My stew arrived in a large bowl with an entire lamb shank, half of a potato and plenty of broth and beans to go with it. It also came with a side of pita bread and salad-e-shirazi, a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions in oil and lemon juice. The stew was piping hot — one of the best I have had at a restaurant. The lamb was cooked to perfection; the meat was soft and tender and slid right off the bone. The broth was also good but spiced a little too much with dried lemon for my personal taste. The wrap was delicious as well, served in your choice of a large tortilla or lavash bread. Adding Persian-style rice with saffron in it was a nice touch, but the tabouli salad was dry and not flavorful.

Soltan Banoo’s food is worth the drive if you’re looking for a contemporary and well-priced take on Persian cuisine. Try to make it over to Soltan Banoo during their lunch hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) — the same items are served for lunch and dinner, but the lunch slashes prices by $2 to $3. The food here is authentic and delicious, but the slow service is less than enthralling, especially after you’ve working up an appetite looking for parking.

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