Islamabad is a city that does not exactly spring up from a province like Lahore does from Punjab, Karachi from Sindh or Peshawar from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It does not represent a provincial majority – and that’s the beauty of it because it truly represents the federation of Pakistan. Assimilating flavours from all over Pakistan, Islamabad prides itself in offering some of the best dishes for you to indulge in.
This is the ultimate food guide for everyone who wants to have a taste of the best the city has to offer.
Disclaimer: Reading this post might make you crave like mad crazy for the items listed below so make sure you’re viewing this on the go.
1. Chelo Kebab from Omer Khayyam
This Iranian place is a cult classic with a small loyal following. It has to offer the best kebabs you’ll ever have, hands down. Although the presentation KINDA makes it look like fried eel but that’s Chelo Kebab for you served with doogh (Salty Lassi) which is a lethal combination.
2. Mantus from Mantu Gul Kitchen
Situated adjacent to the Faisal Mosque, this place has carved a niche for itself in part due to its setting. Nestled amongst the greenest of greens and modeled like a small dhaba, Mantu Gul surprises you with its hygienic cutlery and food. However, the absolute must-have are their Mantus after which the eatery is named. Mantu or Manti is a Central Asian take on dumplings and this place definitely knows how to bake them to perfection.
3. Cheese Naans from Monal
Damn. Need I say more? Monal is famous for a lot of things such as its ambience, desi food and the BREATHTAKING view of Margalla Hills. However, cheese naans are your guilty pleasure every time you visit this gorgeous place. The naans, if eaten oven hot, can be downed in less than 3 seconds so all you weight-watchers, DON’T look at this picture. In fact just skip this bit altogether.
Now imagine having these bad boys with…
4. Roll Paratha from The Corner Pan Shop @ Gol Market F-7 and Gulshan in F-10
You really have to prove your mettle in order to stand out in a place like Gol Market F-7 as well as F-10 markaz, both of which have food stalls and restaurants in abundance. There are at least a dozen places offering roll paratha in Islamabad however only the most authentic of roll-paratha fans know where to find the best of it..
Forgive the close-up but I just had to.
5. Chinioti Handi from Mr. Chips
You’re not living your life right if you’re in Islamabad and haven’t been to Mr.Chips. This is probably one of the first few restaurants (the cute old waiters roaming around bear testimony to that) of the city. Mr.Chips has a very humble setup thanks to the negligible renovation it received ever since its launch in 800 B.C. and prices so low you’d end up ordering half the menu, because it’s not just that good but THAT cheap too! The chinioti handi is a clear winner though with its spicy chicken curry served with hot naans that just keep coming unannounced!
6. Brownie Skillet from Tuscany Courtyard
Two words. Sinful pleasure. The very sight of this dessert makes you go weak in the knees. What do you get by combining a slice of rich, moist chocolate brownie immersed in sizzling hot chocolate gravy with a scoop of ice-cream, fruit and nuts perched atop? A foodgasm. You get a orgasm.
7. Garlic Mushroom Toast from Chaaye Khana
Your go-to place for a fancy breakfast over weekends, Chaaye Khana offers over seventy blends of teas, hand-picked from all over the world. But what makes you drag yourself out of bed every Sunday morning for Chaaye Khana is their Garlic Mushroom Toast which should by now qualify for a food category if you ask me.
This is how I woke up..
8. Steak from Porterhouse, Kohsar
This place is a spinoff of Qureshi Meatshop in Kohsar and with a pre-established name for itself in the market, Porterhouse needed little time to take off. With top notch meat cuts and a readily available inventory to boost, Porterhouse has carved a niche for itself with steak-lovers. Their steaks are so sexy you’d want to pay to just look at them.
9. Rasmalai Cheesecake from the Warehouse
I might be going to hell for not mentioning their burgers on the list, but I feel the most underrated yet delightfully surprising item on the menu at the Warehouse is neither their burgers nor their mason-jar mojitos; it’s the desi-meets-wilayti Rasmalai Cheesecake! As though the name doesn’t get your attention already, a bite of this local take on the classic New York Cheesecake pleasantly intrigues everyone about the unholy bond of Rasmalai and cheese.
10. Nutella Paratha from Paratha Party
Paratha Party brings a very interesting business model to the streets of Islamabad. Literally. With a chain of road-side dhabas, Paratha Party is expanding and has opened up 3 branches in Islamabad alone in a span of less than a year! Their focus is reflected in the business name, however one item on the menu that catapulted them into limelight almost instantly is their Nutella Parathas. After all, layers of chocolatey goodness sandwiched between the nation’s favourite tala-hua-paratha is a guaranteed recipe for success.
11. Grilled Beef/Chicken Sandwich from Juicy Gossip
Restaurants and cafes in Islamabad mostly have an all-encompassing continental menu with steaks, sandwiches, lasagne, tikka boti and manchurian all available under the same roof. Places with specialized cuisines are rare and Juicy Gossip is one of those rare few. With a focus on nutritious food and a no-soda policy, Juicy Gossip’s grilled chicken and beef sandwiches are to DIE FOR! The place has my respect for so many things; be it their fries-on-a-stick, their tangy lettuce salad or the no-GST bill (in practice before Imran Khan’s campaign).
12. Chocolate Orange Pastry from Burning Brownie
I’m not exactly big on chocolate brownies and pastries as opposed to women who swear by mounds of mandatory chocolate dessert at the end of their meals. But if there’s one brownie place in the city that shakes my faith, it would be Ammar Mumtaz’s legendary Burning Brownie. My favourite on their menu might not be as popular as their mud cakes and fudge brownies, but I feel their mint and orange chocolate desserts are the reason I might be injecting insulin in my body in a few years.
13. Ginger and Lemongrass Tea from Chai Chowk
Islamabad is a hot market for young entrepreneurs and the restaurant business is flourishing more than ever. Chai Chowk is a boutique tea-house operated by Imran Rafique, a young graduate from FAST Business School. Chai Chowk’s core specialty is Imran-k-hath-ki-bani-hui karak chaaye which you can sip on while playing a game of chess or ludo. A hot favourite from among their assorted teas is the ginger & lemongrass tea which tingles your taste buds with its unique mix of ingredients.
14. Poutine from Table No.5
Table No. 5’s social media marketing strategy centers around male chauvinism (read: sandwich jokes) which has brought it under some level controversy as far as Facebook goes. But keeping my views aside on their “vision” and mission, let’s just say this place has amazing poutine and you have to give it to them for being the first restaurant in Islamabad to put that on their menu.
15. Quattro Formaggi Thin Crust from Pizza Originale
If Lahore has Cosa Nostra, Islamabad has Pizza Originale. The only pizzeria offering authentic thin crust pizza in the Capital, Pizza Originale is bound to sweep you off your feet with its exotic pizza offerings combining, artichokes, cheese, eggplant, cheese, spinach, cheese, roasted tomatoes and huge varieties of cheese!
And did I mention cheese?! Quattro Formaggi FTW.
16. Sushi from Murasaki
The brainchild of Ali Saeed, Murasaki is an authentic Japanese takeaway restaurant situated in a beautiful house in F-7. The first of its kind in the city, the place generated buzz solely through word of mouth. A thing that surprises you about the place is their extensive menu. You don’t usually expect a boutique speciality eatery to have a wide range of assortments, but Murasaki comes with an elaborate array of Japanese delicacies that are bound to sweep you off your feet. I mean they even have fancy sushi knives to make sure the ligaments of the meat stay intact! Could we ask for more?!
Editor’s note: All the restaurants that appear in this article are based on the opinion of the writer and should not be taken as an endorsement of a particular restaurant, by MangoBaaz.