Oibek Dzhuraev, the chef and owner of the terrific Laghman Express in Bensonhurst, moved to this Brooklyn neighborhood a little over a year ago from Kyrgyzstan. “My father is a chef back home,” Zhuraev tells Brooklyn Magazine. “After school each day I worked in his restaurant and he taught me how to cook. So when I came to America I knew I had to find kitchen work. It’s my way.”
Turns out, through a series of fortunate encounters, Zhuraev did a lot more than find mere kitchen work. His Laghman Express, which opened last October after a total gut renovation of what Zhuraev called “an old Chinese place,” is an absolute delight. Chris Crowley at Grub Street told us all to eat here in January, but you know what? February works fine too.
The Laghman Express menu features the namesake hand-pulled noodle dish, of course — the suirou laghman, an Uyghur staple that’s like an amped-up bolognese, is served here with chunks of lamb, and it’s very good — but the nature of Central Asian cuisine means that you can also choose from an wonderfully eclectic mix of offerings.
As Zhuraev puts it, “In Kyrgyzstan we are the neighbor of Kazakhstan, the neighbor of Uzbekistan, the neighbor of Tajikistan, the neighbor of Xinjiang, China. We all share our culture and our food.”
Some zippy cumin lamb, stir fried with peppers, onions, garlic and topped with cilantro, can be had over cold noodles or just served as a mountain of meat on a (compostable, disposable) plate.
Dapanji, a dish you may know as “big tray chicken” from the legendary Spicy Village in Chinatown, stars tons of bone-in bird bits and sauce-soaked potatoes, and comes with a side of wide, flat noodles. Each table has a crock of sludgy chili oil, which I suggest you spoon on this beast — the “medium” size is huge — with reckless abandon.
The crisp-fried wontons are fun, each about the size of a tortellini and stuffed with beef and onion, but the samsa, or baked bun, has the same filling and an impressive flaky crust. This latter treat also goes surprisingly well with a pot of Laghman Express’s strong lemon tea.
The sleeper hit here, though, is the deceptively simple stir fried chives with scrambled eggs, which boasts big, clean flavors and is oily as hell. It’s the best thing I ate all week.
The only other green thing on the menu is a smashed cucumber salad, which also packs a punch. Next time I go I’m getting the black fungus salad, the tripe salad, and the lamb leg soup, served with the leg on the side.
Laghman Express is obviously well-suited for feeding a crew — there’s enough variety to keep things interesting even if you get like five or six dishes, but the menu’s not so overwhelming that it induces analysis paralysis — and it also works for solo diners, because the service is fast and the room is spacious enough that you don’t feel like you’re eating on top of your neighbor. In other words, a very useful neighborhood spot that can also function as an eating-adventure destination.
And the place looks amazing, bright and sunny and comfortably appointed. Zhuraev says he spent two weeks doing demolition, then two months rebuilding. The snazzy tile floor, the handsome banquettes, the tables and padded chairs, the walls, the ceilings, the big, open kitchen behind the ordering counter … everything is brand new and a solid addition to this bustling stretch of 20th Avenue.
Laghman Express is located at 6201 20th Avenue, on the corner of 62nd Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 pm. (315-621-0525)
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