Chai Shai sits at the corner of a strip of shops in the middle of an unexpected residential area in Kansas City.
The restaurant is a small and unassuming Pakistani and Indian restaurant in the Brookside neighborhood. The only commercial sign is a small window decal that reads, “Chai Shai.”
“If you were seeking us out, you would think you were lost for a moment, as you drove through a completely residential area before seeing the restaurant,” co-owner Kashif Tufail said. “And then it would be kind of like an adventure.
“The volume that we do, the sheer number of people that come through ordering food from us; we’ve managed to kind of take care of everybody in a small footprint.”
Chai Shai has been family owned and run since it opened in June 2010. It specializes in both Pakistani and Indian street food. The restaurant is designed to be a place to sit with friends while sipping tea and eating.
It has gradually evolved into a comfortable space for everyone. The dark, burnt umber walls, copper bar and crowded tables create a chatty, neighborly atmosphere.
In the evening, lights from 1920s chandeliers and candles on each table give it the glow of a jewel box.
From designing the menu to running the front of the house, taking orders and running food out to cars for curbside delivery, Tufail has a lot on his plate.
“I still get fresh flowers delivered every week,” he said. “I like when somebody walks by and looks through the window and sees this big bouquet of flowers because that’s how we always did it. I don’t want to lose that.”
Open for lunch and dinner, the restaurant specializes in samosas, vegetarian fare, lamb and chicken dishes.
One appetizer, called spicy mango, is sliced ripe mango sprinkled with an array of spices. The achari chicken is cooked in a pickling spice and served with basmati rice, spicy mango and naan.
The lamb korma is a mild curry where the meat is cooked in a sauce of yogurt, nuts and spices. It comes with rice, pink pickled onions, naan and salad for dinner.
“It’s a really, really, really classic street food,” Tufail said. “You don’t see that very often on menus when you eat at a Pakistani or Indian restaurant. People just don’t do it.”