Roadside Savior: Middle Eastern Eats at Masala King
9:30 AM EDT on June 17, 2021
Last Saturday, as the merciless Oklahoma sun beat down on my sweltering head, a friend and I decided to pull over to get a couple of cold drinks to refresh and replenish ourselves. The closest place to stop was a joint called Bismillah Groceries, 3700 N. Portland Ave., a former gas station that used to have a Mexican eatery that I remember enjoying quite a bit.
Parking the fuel-efficient car off to the side, as we were stepping in, I noticed studio shots of various food items, with the words Masala King above them. As we opened the door, sweet spices danced under our noses as the man behind the counter gave us a fitful welcome. My friend went to walk around the store as I noticed the handwritten menu that was sitting on the partition.
“Bismillah must be the grocery store, while Masala King is the restaurant inside,” I said to myself, finally putting two and two together.
I asked the man behind the counter if the restaurant was open; he handed me a menu with many of the same photos of Middle Eastern delights and asked what I’d like to order. As I thought about it for a moment—what a glorious question to ask me!—I rattled off a few items that looked good and paid the man, the order taken to the back to a hidden kitchen where, undoubtedly, someone had to be working.
Finding a booth in the front of the shop to rest at, I nestled my purchased can of cherry juice and settled back, my friend eventually sitting down as well with her found goods, things like plant spray and cheese and so on. Next to us, a rather jovial couple was trying the food for the first time too, trying to coax a toddler into a piece of naan, which he apprehensively took and immediately decided that he liked quite a bit.
After tasting the naan, which the man had just brought to our table, I must agree with the child.
Goat Biryani ($11.99) was the opening dish for me to sample, one that I’ve had before at other places, but very few where the spiced rice perfectly complimented the roasted goat meat so very well; usually it’s an afterthought. Using the plentiful cuts of naan as a spoon to scoop up the goodness, I took only a few more bites, though I probably could have finished it off.
As my friend helped herself to the biryani, I unwrapped the foil on the edible amalgam of two different cultures, the Bun Kabab Burger ($4.99). Much like a typical burger, between the usual bun was a flattened piece of spiced meat—I’m not sure what kind, but I’m guessing lamb—with various things like lentils, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions scattered on top to create an otherworldly flow that took me to a new place, if only for a minute.
Having one more bite and taking a momentous swig of the remaining cherry juice, I placed a spoon in my last dish, the Beef Paye ($9.99). I had never had this traditional Pakistani dish, but the meat swimming for its dear life in the thick reddish sauce was a true taste inspiration, a mélange of freshly made tastes that made me feel whole, each mouthful of tempestuous meat delivering a slight burn but, honestly, I didn’t care anymore.
As my friend and I sat there, we laughed, firmly believing that some of the best Middle Eastern food was right here, unassuming and unheralded in this former filling station that I’ve driven by a million times, in all its various states.
As I packed the leftovers up, my friend took out a stick of pistachio ice cream from her shopping bag and gave me a sturdy bite of it, the deft coldness preparing our reinvigorated souls to travel back into the evening heat, our bodies filled with a newfound strength—and a truly welcomed fullness—thanks to Masala King.
All hail the King.
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