BBQ Delight in Springfield: Art, heat and a taste of southern Pakistan


The BBQ Platter at BBQ Delight, located in a strip mall in Springfield. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
February 20

The gentleman taking my order seems bemused by my presence. I can’t blame him. I’m sitting alone at a family-style table that feels, at this moment, like it could accommodate the House of Representatives; it was either this seat or another at a long banquet table designed for even more diners. I couldn’t spot a two-top anywhere at BBQ Delight, which is clearly built for volume.

Then again, maybe the man is still puzzled by my opening salvo: “Do you have any beer?” I already knew the answer but was looking for confirmation that this Indian-Pakistani establishment, like many places that cater to the Muslim community, does not deal in alcohol. It doesn’t.

Or maybe the guy is just perplexed that, against his advice, I ordered the karahi gosht, a house specialty that the chef prepares with bone-in goat, a meat often ditched in favor of lamb or some other American-friendly protein. Halfway through my meal, he checks on me, sporting the same bemused look. He wants to know whether the dish is too spicy. I want to think he’s asking out of concern, but I fear he has a bet with the chef on whether I’ll send the dish back, posthaste, and ask for the chicken gyro with fries.

Whatever the case, I tell him the truth: The heat is perfect, a burn made fragrant with strips of fresh ginger and specks of black pepper. That’s when I see his visage in a new way — not as a semi-paternal smirk, but as a tight, proud grin on a face perhaps more accustomed to a neutral expression. I’m not exactly sure, but I think I just made his day: a Midwestern dude who digs Pakistani food.

Or perhaps I’m just imagining the whole thing, based on intel that a colleague forwarded: BBQ Delight, he wrote, is a regular destination for Pakistani cab drivers. “Apparently they do amazing karahi,” he wrote, “and there’s a $10 weekday lunch buffet that many cabbies go to.”

The weekday lunch buffet is actually $7.99, which sounds like the deal of the decade, right? Well, this is where I must make my confession: I generally hate buffets, no matter how great the bargain. This is not a blanket statement, covering every steam table under that giant heat lamp in the sky. It’s merely my way of acknowledging that buffets don’t typically showcase a kitchen’s best work. Sauces separate, meats dry out, breads turn to stone. So despite the recommendations of Pakistani cabbies, I ordered only from the menu here, a fool’s errand for those who enjoy sampling widely at a fraction of the cost.

Personally, I prefer to round up a small posse and cover the table (and the table next to ours, if necessary) with dishes. That’s what I did one night at BBQ Delight in Springfield, the second location for the father-son team behind this Indo-Pakistani restaurant. The original is essentially a carryout in Manassas.

The new space, tucked into a strip center just off the curiously named Backlick Road, looks like someone stuffed a restaurant inside a modern art gallery that doubles as a nightclub (a dry nightclub at that). Large panels of abstract and minimalist art adorn the crimson walls, an elegant touch in a room swimming with oversize tables covered with plum-red tablecloths.

If the space has a cool, calming effect, the food does not. The two chefs in the kitchen (one for curries, the other for tandoor dishes) specialize in the cuisine of southern Pakistan, centered mostly on the barbecue culture of Karachi, whether the open kabob grill or the semi-enclosed tandoori oven. Either way, the dishes come packed with flavor and, often, heat. There’s a reason why a round of crackery naan comes with your entree: Pakistanis like to wrap their molten meats in flatbread, the better to suppress the fire.

Much like the karahi gosht, the seekh kabob karahi ferries enough ginger and pepper spice to clear your sinuses. Unlike the goat dish, however, the miniature minced beef logs (still pink in the center) require no effort to separate meat from bone, a plus in my book. The behari kabob, strips of charred skirt steak, are nearly as lush as their minced cousins thanks to a long marination in unripe papaya and mustard oil, the latter of which adds a heady, pungent aroma to the simple ribbons of beef.

For those who hit BBQ Delight on Saturday or Sunday, be sure to try the haleem, a specialty of ground beef shank and lentils that takes more than six hours to cook, hence its weekend-only availability. At first sight, the pureed mash, glistening with oil, doesn’t inspire much lust; it looks like the Pakistani equivalent of refried beans. But once you spoon the haleem onto naan, add slivers of fresh ginger and a squeeze of lemon, the whole thing explodes with flavor.

Dish after dish after dish, I found much to revel in here: The charred lamb chops, almost incinerated, prove salty and surprisingly succulent; the twisty strips of chicken pakora go down as mindlessly as popcorn at the movies; even the velvety butter chicken holds its own against versions in more Indian-oriented establishments.

The quality of the place, I have to admit, made me almost reconsider my ban on buffets. Then co-owner Sami Hussain told me on the phone, as I was fact-checking this review, that the daily buffet often features home-style Pakistani dishes not found on the menu.

Guess where I’ll be headed again?

BBQ Delight

6981 Hechinger Dr., Springfield.
703-376-3388. www.bbq-delight.com .

Hours: Sundays-Thursdays 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Nearest Metro station: Franconia-Springfield, about
3 miles from the restaurant.

Prices: Entrees, $7.99-$15.99.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires ingesting more calories than a draft horse.
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