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In this Bangladeshi spot, Biryani meets burgers in Porter Square

Monir Saji serves dishes like tikka masala (top right) and fresh-made garlic nan bread (above right). Monir Saji serves dishes like tikka masala (top right) and fresh-made garlic nan bread (above right). (PHOTOS BY Jonathan Wiggs/globe staff)
By Sheryl Julian
Globe Staff / April 11, 2012
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The KFC is long gone, but the familiar boxy storefront hasn’t changed, and there are coveted parking spaces in back. After the Colonel left this Porter Square spot, Banjo’s Roast Beef had a brief tenure. For the last year and a half, the space has housed Darul Kabab, the interior renovated to a bright yellow with red trim. Banjos from the previous eatery are part of the new decor, different banjos than owner Monir Saji knows from Bangladesh, but he bought them when the place changed hands.

Darul Kabab is where biryani meets burger. The traditional rice dish, biryani, is prepared in many rice-growing regions; the exceptional version here is from Saji’s homeland. Burgers, says the owner, are what the next generation wants, so they’re on the menu with other unlikely items such as kebab pizza.

Six flat screens show all kinds of Indian shows, CCTV from China, and sports games. Saji originally opened a more casual spot with a buffet, then decided to add tablecloths, but left all the screens up.

Most of the Bangladeshi, Indian, and Pakistani food is rustic. A weekend-only dish called nehari ($8.99) is a spicy beef curry with bony pieces and intense meaty flavor. Biryani ($9.99-$13.99) is a stunning dish, brilliant yellow, layered with caramelized onions, seasoned with saffron, molded in a round pan, then turned out into a thick cake. Add raita ($2.50), the classic yogurt and cucumber dish, here a little runny, and a few slices of warm, homemade plain naan ($1.99) or garlic naan ($2.50), and you won’t need anything else.

The bony goat nestled into the cake of biryani is a little gristly but full of flavor, like lamb. Vegetable biryani is layered with carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, bell peppers, and zucchini. Saji says that the intense golden hue of the rice comes from food color. In kebab dishes, that coloring is red, he says, which is the tradition. Cubes of boneless chicken ($9.99) look fiery on their plate with sliced raw vegetables and white rice (you can also get naan and raita). Tandoori shrimp ($15.99), cooked in the classic conical oven, are also bright red and a little spicy.

Saji owns six restaurants at Logan Airport, including four Sbarro. At Dural, all meat is halal. As for the difference between the cuisine of his homeland and that of Indian or Pakistan, Saji can only say that although some dishes are similar, cooking styles and spices are not.

Still, most curries are very saucy, served in small, deep copper gratin dishes. Chicken tikka masala ($10.99), which we’re endlessly curious about (since the English adopted it almost as a national dish), has a dark red sauce. The meat is cooked first in the tandoor, but it’s not smoky and not particularly flavorful. A two-person chicken karahi ($15.99), combines grilled meat simmered with lots of onions and bell peppers, and a kind of sweet-sour dark sauce. This wonderful dish comes with plenty of naan, salad, and raita.

Vegetable samosa ($3) is tall and triangular, a deep-fried wrapper filled with potato and peas and served with a bright green chili sauce. Chickpeas with tamarind and chopped hard-cooked eggs, called chotpoti ($5) is another dish you could easily turn into a main course with raita, and naan spread with mango chutney ($1.25), a sweet, smooth version.

For dessert, kheer ($2.99), a milky rice pudding garnished with almonds and raisins, is outstanding.

We notice lots of customers coming to pick up big brown shopping bags of dinner to-go from Darul (which means “land”). One night we call in an order for pizza kebab. It’s made with naan, layered with tomato sauce, cheese, and slices of chicken. The crust is undercooked and the cheese is ordinary.

If this is what the kids dine on while their parents eat biryani, it’s no contest who wins.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at julian@globe.com.

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DARUL KABAB

2072 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge, 617354-4010, www.darulkabab.com.

All major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Prices Appetizers, soups, salads, breads $1.25-$5.99. Burgers, pizzas, wraps $3.99-$6.99. Entrees $8.99-$$19.99 (most under $12.99). Desserts $2.95-$3.49.

Hours Daily 10:30 a.m.-

10 p.m.

Liquor None.

May we suggest Plain or garlic naan, vegetable samosa, chotpoti (chickpeas), chicken karahi, goat biryani, vegetable biryani, kheer (rice pudding).