Lovers of dainty potato and pea samosas, orange-hued chicken tikka masala, and fluffy garlic naan bread have trusted Khyber Pass, 1031 Lake St., to satisfy their cravings for more than a quarter of a century.
“I always believed I would make it because I gave it my all,” said owner Malik Jawid with just a hint of pride. “I had a passion for the business and knew good food and good service could get me through anything.”
Jawid emigrated from Punjab, Pakistan to Chicago in 1987 where he immediately found a job as busboy at Viceroy of India in East Rogers Park. Though the restaurant is now permanently closed, Jawid worked his way up from busboy to manager and learned the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business. He never worked in the kitchen but has a deep appreciation for nuanced Indian dishes and the Pakistani fare of his homeland.
In the mid-90’s, a case of wanderlust brought Jawid on an accidental trip to Oak Park. He liked the cosmopolitan feel of the village and discovered a culinary gap in his serendipitously discovered community — Oak Park needed an Indian restaurant. In 1995 Jawid opened Khyber Pass, named for a mountain pass linking Pakistan to Afghanistan and central Asia, and began serving reliable meat based and vegetarian Indian fare with notable Pakistani influences.
Khyber Pass employs two chefs; one has been with the restaurant for 20 years and the other for 12. The consistency of their house-made dishes is unwavering. Over the years their cuisine has evolved to include more vegetarian dishes to keep up with local and national trends, but Jawid is clear that 70% of orders include rich and creamy chicken tikka masala. The perennially popular yogurt-marinated curried chicken dish is complemented by lamb dishes like karahi gosht featuring braised meat in spiced gravy with peppers, tomatoes and onion. An assortment of Pakistani rice dishes called biryani also feature prominently on the Khyber Pass menu.
Over the years, Jawid has both expanded and collapsed his restaurant’s square footage, but loyal customers have helped Khyber Pass endure for 25 (plus two) years. The owner reflected on the joy he felt upon earning the coveted “four fork” rating from the Chicago Tribune and grappling with a line of customers snaking around the block. He remembers the uneasy feeling he had as a Muslim restaurant owner in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack but cherishes the memory of the Oak Park community rallying around him during those uncertain times. But without hesitation, Jawid named the generations of customers as his biggest source of pride.
1031 Lake St