Shah Jee's – 770 N. Jefferson St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Open 11am to 2:30pm, weekdays only.

The first time I was aware of Shah Jee's was when, visiting Milwaukee, I was looking for lunch downtown at noon, and I noticed all these people walking into this storefront space under a massive parking garage (for some reason, about half of downtown Milwaukee is parking garages and surface lots, as if every person drives two cars to work each day). Anyway, I thought, what's going on here?—it must be either something free or something good. So I joined them, filing into a basement, down a bizarre series of staircases that look a little like you're in a 1970s dystopian sci-fi movie. Then I saw the line for a guy serving food from a hot table, and I thought, what the hell, must be super cheap, but I'm not waiting in line for an hour. So it wasn't until sometime later that I actually went to Shah Jee's for food and found out it wasn't just inexpensive, it was an interesting selection of Pakistani food, delicious in a way that makes you think about it at unexpected times and crave it in way unusual for ordinary lunch.

Maybe this is just what good food does, take over your brain. There's a menu board, but I think it's pretty much the same every day, with dishes that include chicken masala, aalu palak, saag paneer, chana masala, daal masoor, all served with basmati rice. It's similar to Indian food, but different—I mean, Indian food is all different from other Indian food—but anyway—well, it's almost not fair—how can anything be more delicious than Indian food? I've been back a few times, and I normally just get whatever is the special that day. Eventually, I might dissect the menu more closely, but in the meantime I have to mention the dining room, which is a random assortment of tables and chairs in this basement that lacks warmth warmth and nicety, but isn't even weird enough to be interesting. All in all, Shah Jee's might have—of any restaurant in town—the biggest gap between food, on the high side, and décor, on the low—and I know it's not a contest, but if it was, food wins.

Richard Skiller 1.11.18