HOUSTON – It is a place that sizzles with warmth -- from its food to its owner’s philosophy.
The Afghan Village Restaurant on Hillcroft Avenue in Southwest Houston is a place where those in need can go to get a warm meal.
It's a deal they can't refuse.
"I love this business because you can contribute. You can help people in this business, and the way I do it is a little unique,” restaurant owner Omer Yousafzai said.
For Yousafzai, anyone who comes hungry and in need will get their fill.
"All sorts of people come in, and they tell you, ‘I’m short,’ or ‘I don’t’ have money,’” Yousafzai said.
But, for Yousafzai, it is no problem.
"I told everybody in the city that, if they cannot afford a meal, they can always come," he said.
An authentic Afghan meal on the house is a deal he is happy to give to those who need food in their stomach.
"People tell me, 'You're crazy for doing something like this.' But, I’ve seen that it works. It’s just beautiful,” he said.
His restaurant at 6413 Hillcroft Avenue in Southwest Houston has been open for six years. It's open every day from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and brings in about 100 customers daily.
"There are a lot of paying customers that pay for the next customer, as a matter of fact, and (they) keep my lights on. And, yes, it may not be a good business model, but overall, like I said, at the end of the day, I make enough to do both -- to fulfill my religious obligations, my obligation as a human and, at the same time, pay my bills,” Yousafzai said.
When he left Afghanistan, which was at war when he was growing up, Yousafzai said, he fell in love with Houston and its diversity.
"I love Houston. I tell this to almost everybody that leaves Houston, and it’s very few of them. They don’t like the weather. Well, I even like the weather,” Yousafzai said. “I tell them that Houston is the most diverse city in the U.S. Every part of the city you go to, you are welcome.”
It's a welcome that he is returning to Houstonians with authentic, good-quality Afghan food.
"We want to make sure everything is made from scratch -- from the dough to the flour,” Yousafzai said, pointing to the naan dough and the clay oven.
From naan to kebabs and Afghan Village Restaurant’s lamb curry, each dish is made to the chef’s top standard.
"It has cumin seeds, coriander seeds and top it off with cilantro,” Yousafzai said, describing the lamb curry.
In Afghan tradition, each meal is served family style and is not typically eaten alone.
"I always call him to eat with me," Yousafzai said while pointing to his friend.
The food is typically meat and some vegetables –- goat or lamb seasoned with spices such as cumin, coriander and black pepper. Meals are typically finished with dried fruit and tea with cardamom, with spiced sugar taken separately.
"My faith encourages me to help my neighbors, to help the needy. That’s how I was brought up,” Yousafzai said.
Yousafzai, who also owns Afghan Halal Market, Arianna Afghan Bakery and Blackhawk Security, said that he offers 10% off for all veterans and 25% off for veterans of the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. He also supplies free meals for the families of soldiers who were wounded in action or killed in action.
Here's a look at some of the dishes offered at the restaurant:
Lamb curry - Afghan Village's signature dish. Lamb seasoned in part with coriander, cumin, black pepper and cilantro.
Kebab - various meats including lamb with grilled vegetables.
Dried fruit and tea - Traditional way to end a meal in Afghan culture.