Takeaway thali from Thali Bites in Wilmette
If I told you a take-out joint in a Wilmette strip mall served the most exciting Pakistani food north of Granville, would you take the Brown Line, transfer to the Purple Line, ride that to Central, then wait a half hour for the 201 to shove off to Old Orchard Mall before plodding about a third of a mile up Skokie Boulevard for some freshly curdled palak paneer and bhindi
that tastes like green fireworks?
Of course you would, because you know that the suburbs make up a map that glitters with culinary treasure
. Me, I got a ride, but I would work much harder than that to access Thali Bites, a wee counter service operation, mere months old, run by a husband, Arifeen Bokhary, who handles the phone, register, and customer relations, and a wife, Ambreen Bokhary, who left a respectable career in local educational food service to command a line of steel karahi
out of which are served from-scratch curries of such homey virtuosity you can scarcely believe there's a Bakers Square across the street feeding the walking dead. That's the view from the handful of stools in the bright window, which also offers a front-row vantage on the comings and goings of the neighboring cigar store.
Hats off to the LTHer who succinctly shouted it out
. The menu is only slightly less short and sweet: ten heaping, hearty dishes: unctuously tender hunks of beef nihari
almost swimming in silky, molten gravy; buttery daal fry; palak paneer with soft, cloudlike nuggets of cheese and spinach that almost taste alive.
For such a focused collection of dishes, it features a concentration of surprises. There's disintegratingly tender veal (matka ghost
) the opulence of which is pierced by matchsticks of just-cooked ginger. Haleem
, that rare and ever-stirred porridge of wheat, barley, lentils, and beef, is smooth and tensile enough to bounce a quarter off. And then there's that bhindi. I never thought I'd describe an okra dish as revelatory, but this one—bright, snappy sections of brilliant green lady's fingers without a trace of mucilage, crisply sauteed in a spicy, tangy base of onion and tomato—is the bhindi of your life.
Samosas, pakora, heaping piles of biryani and pulao, and a "jumbo chicken egg roll" round things out.
There are generous portions at Thali Bites too—I was eagerly eating bhindi omelets for a week of breakfasts. A thali
, by the way, is one of those circular plates on which you assemble of variety of dishes to make up a balanced subcontinental meal. Thali Bites is too nimble an operation to accommodate that sort of dishware, but with the amply sized plastic to-go containers it's easy enough to assemble a takeaway Thali of epic proportions to enjoy at home or al trunko. The Bokharys' food travels well.
Thali Bites in Wilmette
Thali Bites, 143 Skokie Blvd., Wilmette, 847-920-5663