There it sat all aglow on Union Turnpike as the sun set, a narrow storefront in bright green and orange wedged between a cleaners and a laundromat, directly across the street from an ancient German butcher called Hans Meat-O-Rama, which we took to be a good omen. The interior boasts two rows of plain dark tables, each with its own number designation hoisted on a pole. The walls are the same bilious green as the façade, with color blow-ups of kebabs as the main decoration. At the rear, a woman in a sari staffs an order counter equipped with a computer connection to the kitchen behind her. Order at the counter and your dishes are delivered to your numbered table. Not sure how to tip with a system like this, but 20 percent always works.
A rough calculation reveals that, out of the menu's 75 or so choices, over 85 percent involve meat, including lamb, goat, beef, and chicken. The rest are breads, vegetable curries (only three of those), a single fish dish, and plain white rice. Yes, there are extreme-meat selections. One goes by the intriguing name of kat-a-kat ($21), though it contains no discernible cat. When it arrives, you get to play a little game called "Name That Organ." Topped with shredded raw ginger and a lemon wedge (which you should squeeze on immediately), the bumpy brown morass certainly contains goat or lamb kidney, brain, heart, and testicles, which are, respectively, tart, squishy, muscular, and spongy. The surface of the kidney tidbits is shiny and nephritic. If you love offal, this dish is a joy; if you don't, maybe not so much—though the flavor is mellower and less skanky than you might expect.
When it arrives, you get to play a little game called "Name That Organ."
Then there's badshahi haleem ($10), sometimes considered the national dish of Pakistan. It goes back to the Mughal Empire that once dominated this part of South Asia, when the food and the folkways of the region were heavily influenced by the Middle East. Named after a mosque in Lahore, once the largest in the world, this type of haleem consists of ground beef stewed with wheat and lentils for eight or more hours, resulting in a consistency like library paste—but what delicious paste it is, dotted with green chiles and caramelized onions! The thickness makes it perfect for scooping up with the restaurant's whole-wheat, tandoori-cooked rotis; white-flour, yeast-risen naans (both breads $1 apiece); or, best of all, the deep-fried, multilayered lachcha paratha ($3.50), which is one of Bundu Khan's specialties. The flaky flatbread almost falls apart and leaves your hands slippery with grease—but if you can maneuver it well enough to grab a fistful of haleem, the taste combination is fantastic.
This being a self-described kebab house, there are kebabs you've probably never heard of. Tenderest is gola kebab ($10), associated in a menu side note with Karachi, Pakistan's Burns Road, named after Dr. James Burns, an early 19th century British colonial physician. Gola means "hand grenade," which this kebab resembles in shape, if not texture. In fact, finely minced with papaya, yogurt, and spices, the beef is so soft it must be laced together with thread like a girdle. The first thing you should do upon receiving it is carefully remove the thread, which can be quite annoying. Though the gola kebab won't look like a grenade anymore after being unthreaded, it will still explode in your mouth with flavor.
The beef is so soft it must be laced together with thread like a girdle.
My table liked nearly every kebab we tried, with the exception of the boti kebab. These lamb chunks marinated in yogurt and then grilled melt into mush in your mouth, proving that, where meat is concerned there can be such a thing as too tender. In chocolate such melting could be an advantage, but with lamb cubes you want something more sinewy.
Bundu Khan serves virtually nothing but meat—boiled, broiled, fried, or tandoori-roasted—and the South Asian immigrants who come here, the women dressed in sumptuous and colorful outfits, the men in plain sports clothes, are willing to wait outside for it and think nothing of foregoing vegetables entirely for one meal, at least. Chicken is a highlight, too. You can get it sauced in a Delhi-style qorma of medium spiciness; in a glorious, particolored biryani; ground-up in seekh, chapli, or reshmi kebabs; or in boneless or bone-in chicken tikka (order the bone-in for extra flavor). Best of all is chargha ($15) an entire bird laved in lemon juice and what the menu is pleased to call "Oriental spices." The sheer size of the chicken suggests you may be eating the leftovers for days to come.
Could a vegetarian get by at Bundu Khan? Barely. The tastiest vegetarian curry is chana masala ($7), perfectly cooked chickpeas immersed in dark gravy. Sometimes there's also palak paneer, the familiar casserole of spinach and fresh pressed cheese. But really, the restaurant is set up to encourage orgies of meat consumption, and that is exactly what you should expect. And you'll find yourself eating more meat than you ever expected too, even at a place like Peter Luger.