Mount Vernon, one of Baltimore’s most historic areas and cultural hotspots, has been home to The Helmand for 34 years. The Afghan restaurant was recommended by Baltimore Banner reader Brent Flickinger, who said it is his favorite because “the food is superb and the prices are very reasonable for the quality.”
In this week’s Ask Charm City Table, a column where I visit your favorite restaurants or share my own recommendations based on your dining questions, I enjoy a quaint and impressive dinner at The Helmand.
Named after Afghanistan’s longest river and the owner’s first-born son, The Helmand highlights the country’s history and culture through the restaurant’s aesthetic. Their two dining rooms and bar area are decorated with ancient and modern tapestries, paintings, and rugs. The atmosphere is somehow both unpretentious and regal.
After glancing at the menu, I noticed the prices were indeed affordable compared to many of the elegant dining spaces I have visited in Baltimore. Appetizers, soups, and salads were about $8 each and most entrees were between $16 and $20.
To start, I ordered cardamom green tea and shorwa — a soup with lamb, vegetables and beans. The piping hot tea was quickly brought to my table with a bowl of sugar cubes. I added two cubes to my tea because I am fond of the fruity, botanical flavors of cardamom coupled with sweetness, and it was an enjoyable way to start the meal.
The soup was my favorite part of the meal — I was in love at first taste. The marinated chunks of lamb were tender and spiced, the vegetables (cauliflower, carrots, onions) were right in between soft and firm, and the broth was outstanding. I went back the very next day to enjoy a bowl for dinner.
Next, I ate the restaurant’s most popular menu item, Kaddo Borawni, baked and pan-fried baby pumpkin seasoned with sugar and served atop a yogurt garlic sauce. And I also ordered Mantwo, a homemade pastry shell filled with onions and beef, served on yogurt and topped with carrots, yellow split peas, and beef sauce. The Kaddo Borawni has been recommended to me by many people over the years, including my server, so it had a lot of hype to live up to. I enjoyed the softness and the sweetness of this dish; the yogurt added a rich, fermented taste. The Mantwo complemented the sweetness of the pumpkin dish with its savory notes. Both appetizers were splendid, and yes, the Kaddo Borawni met expectations.
Fresh pan-poached salmon, served with spinach and challow, was one of the specials for the evening. Since I went with vegetarian and red meat appetizers, I wanted to taste a seafood option for my entrée. The dish was smothered in orangish-yellow split pea sauce, adding creamy and complex flavors with each bite. The salmon was flaky and paired well with the seasoned spinach and challow, a white rice cooked with spices.
I finished my exquisite meal with Turkish coffee and a goat cheese cheesecake. If you have not tried Turkish coffee, it is almost like a sweetened espresso. Sip slowly. The cheesecake was creamy and slightly sweet, with almond slices adding a pleasant crunchy texture.
To dine here is to understand why The Helmand has survived in Baltimore since 1989. The food, service, history, and culture leave a lasting impression.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in the Baltimore area or are you looking for dining suggestions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with recommendations and questions.