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, 143 Skokie Blvd., Wilmette, 847-920-5663