Why you should go: To support a women-owned business, and for traditional Afghani food. Try the bulani, yum.
It's a long road from Afghanistan to State Street - how did you get here?
Samadzada: I was married to an Afghani who lived here. It was an arranged marriage - I was 14, he was 31. It was 1989. When I got here I didn't know how to read or write, and I didn't speak English. My ex (we're divorced) knew Nasima's dad, Ghafoor, who owns Kabul, across the street. So I got a job there. They started me out as dishwasher, but I was watching the cook. I wanted to get into the kitchen. I did, eventually. I worked for Ghafoor for 16 years.
Zafari: I was born in Afghanistan, but we came to New York when I was 10 and moved here a year later. My dad owned several restaurants before Kabul, which opened in 1990. I worked for him growing up, washing dishes, waiting and bussing tables, cooking - all of it. Shekeba's like a daughter to him too. They have a really good relationship, but it's different - they can talk about everything!
You opened just this March, right?
Samadzada: This used to be the Saz. It belonged to Husnu, who wanted to sell it and focus on his restaurant across the street next to Kabul. One day Nassima and I were having coffee at Kabul, and Ghafoor said we should open a business together. I was thinking about the Saz, but I wanted a partner. I asked Nasima if she'd go in on it, and she said yeah.
How's your menu different from Kabul's?
Zafari: I have to give my dad credit him for everything I know. He's a very successful restaurateur, and now when I supervise in the kitchen - really, whatever I do - I hear my dad talking. But his menu's not just Afghani, it's Mediterranean, too. Our menu's 99% Afghani with a little contemporary flair. My dad's like, "What's contemporary flair mean?" And I'm like, "It's our own little secrets and spices."
Where do you get your recipes?
Samadzada: Mostly from my mom. She's in Afghanistan. I get the recipes over the phone. But Nasima and I have been best friends for years, so some of the recipes are hers, too.
Zafari: We'll cook together in the middle of the night, trying different things. We've been doing that for years. Every little girl dreams of having a restaurant, I think. Shekeba and I did. If someone comes to our house, they say, oh my god this food is so good, so - if it's successful in front of your friends and family, it'll work for a restaurant, too.
Zafari: Shekeba does the cooking, I do the business side of things. But my favorite's the lamb Kabuli. I wait the tables sometimes, and I always recommend it. I made it famous, 'cause everyone tries it.
Samadzada: The meat's tender-cooked, really slow, and served on brown basmati rice with carrots, raisins, almonds and onions in the sauce. We do our own desserts - try the jalabi, dough in a sugar syrup, 'cause you can get baklava anywhere.
Zafari: But Shekeba's baklava's always perfect.