Choolaah Indian BBQ Opens in Fairfax
Choolaah Indian BBQ held its grand opening last Saturday at 2918 District Ave. in Fairfax’s Mosaic District. The 3,955-square-foot fast-casual Indian restaurant officially opened Dec. 28 serving customizable made-to-order BBQ bowls.
The name is a play on the term sanjha chulha. In ancient northern India, people would meet and gather around a neighborhood sanjha chulha to bake fresh bread and exchange stories—a tradition that strengthened personal bonds. Choolaah is a fresh take on this experience of sitting with others, sharing stories and savoring good company and food.
The Fairfax location is the chainlet’s second with a third coming to the Cascades Overlook project in Sterling, Va., this spring. Pittsburgh-based Wholesome International, which also operates 20 Five Guys in the Pittsburgh area, launched Choolaah in the Cleveland suburb of Orange Village, Ohio, in 2014. A Pittsburgh location is also in the works.
“We were immediately drawn to the diversity and strong sense of community found at Mosaic District,” said co-CEO Raji Sankar. “We look forward to becoming a gathering place for all and to being actively involved in this great community.”
The inside of the 121-seat restaurant located around the corner from the Angelika Theatre is crisp and bright with white walls, orange benches and banquettes, light and dark wood accents with exposed drop lighting and raw metal. A large communal table sits in front of the glass-walled kitchen so diners can watch meats, cheeses and breads being cooked in four custom-built orange tandoor clay ovens named Larry, Curly, Moe and Shep. The ovens cook at 700 degrees Fahrenheit, sealing in the juices. An outdoor patio seats another 36 in warmer weather.
There are large round tables in the middle of the dining room with smaller tables around the outside. Custom artwork in bright colors hangs on the walls. One feature that you don’t want to miss is the Handwash-O-Matic that sits just inside the dining room. Pull your sleeves up, insert your hands all the way and the machine washes and sanitizes your hands for you.
The menu features hormone-, antibiotic and GMO-free ingredients including cage-free Bell & Evans chicken, grass-fed Superior Farms lamb, North Atlantic salmon from the Faroe Islands, paneer cheese made by Amish cheese makers in Ohio from Amish cows, veggie croquettes made with onions, eggplant, potatoes and green peas, and tofu. A dietary menu is available to help diners choose vegetarian, vegan and dairy free, onion and garlic free, gluten free and egg free dishes.
BBQ Bowls priced from $9.99-$13.99 come with a choice of one of the above selections along with basmati or brown rice, regular or wheat naan and a choice of tika masala, chickpea masala, veggie masala, yellow lentil daal or black lentil daal all made with spices imported from India. Specialties include biryani made with basmati rice, herbs, spices and chicken or lamb; tika masala with rice and BBQ; and a masala bowl made with a masala or daal on rice.
The restaurant also offers three greens including the Choolaah Salad made with power greens, crispy wheat naan chips, pickled onions, cucumbers, chopped tomatoes, roasted cauliflower, chickpeas, golden raisins and shredded paneer cheese topped with choice of BBQ; a chopped salad with mixed greens, tomatoes, cabbage, chickpeas, carrots and shaved paneer topped with a choice of BBQ; and lettuce wraps with bibb lettuce, choice of rice and chicken, paneer or tofu along with tomato-cilantro-onion mix, pickled onions, cucumbers, chickpeas, golden raisins, shaved cabbage and shredded paneer.
Other dishes include tandoori wraps priced from $6.99-$7.99 such as chicken, lamb meatball, paneer or cauliflower and chickpea wrapped in an egg-free wheat wrap; samosas ($2.49); samosa chaat ($3.99); and pav bhaji ($6.99). Sauces and spices are provided on the side for guests to adjust spice levels to their own personal palates. A self-serve sauce bar offers spicy mango, mint yogurt, raita, Choolaah ranch, tamarind ginger, tamarind apple, fire and lava sauces with varying degrees of heat.
A kid’s menu features cheesy or chicken naan pizza, rice and chicken, or rice and paneer from $4.49-$5.49. The beverage menu includes mango or salted lassi, mint ginger lemonade, Choolaah chai tea with fresh ground ginger and cardamom, herbal iced tea, fountain drinks, bottled beer and wine by the glass. Dessert features Indian ice cream, mango or malai kulfi ($2.49) or chocolate truffle ($0.99).
Choolaah Indian BBQ is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.