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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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In Dining

Shah Jee's is located at 770 N. Jefferson St.

In Dining

Nearly every weekday, diners line up in the lower-level food court.

In Dining

Chicken masala, chick peas and basmati rice form a solid $7 meal at Shah Jee's.

In Dining

Downtown workers like to search for quick, cheap, casual and dependable lunch spots.

Shah Jee's a hidden gem for Downtown lunch crowd


When it comes to grabbing lunch Downtown, most diners are looking food that is quick, cheap and reasonably tasty. Venues that hit the mark in all three categories cultivate loyal customers and do brisk business.

Shah Jee's is one of those places.

Inconspicuously located in a tough-to-find food court at 770 N. Jefferson St., a location where other restaurant's have failed, Shah Jee's is thriving by offering Pakistani food with little fanfare and fewer thrills.

The scene at Shah Jee's, which shares space with the New No. 1 Chinese Restaurant, evokes memories of a high school cafeteria: people line up for hot meals served on paper plates atop plastic trays; they sit at spartan tables under fluorescent lights and eat with plastic utensils.

The big difference, of course, is the quality of the food.

Shah Jee's, which is open only for lunch, serves food that is flavorful enough to overcome any shortcomings in atmosphere. The price -- $7 for two curry items served with basmati rice or roti (a fresh round wheat flour bread) and a soft drink -- keeps customers happy. In fact, many consider it to be one of the "best kept secrets" in town.

"The food is outstanding," said Michael Hart, an attorney who frequents the restaurant along with dozens of "regulars" from nearby offices such as Northwestern Mutual Life. "There is a reason it's crowded all the time."

The signature dish at Shah Jee's is chicken masala -- tender cubes of boneless chicken cooked in a reddish gravy. The mixture of onions, garlic, tomatoes and other spices (possibly ginger and chili powder) is spicy, but not in a way that will make you lunge for a beverage. The flavors tickle the taste buds, but don't leave your mouth burning until dinner time.

As an accompaniment to the masala, many diners choose chana masala, a serving of chick peas cooked with tomatoes and onions. Other options include aalu palak, potatoes and spinach cooked with herbs and spices and saag paneer, cubes of cheese cooked in chopped spinach with fresh Pakistani herbs. Daal masoor, which features red lentils flavored with garlic cloves, green spices and other "authentic" herbs, is another popular choice.

The basmati rice, fragrant and fluffy, has a nutty flavor and serves as a perfect complement to the spice of the main dishes.

Shah Jee's is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. The restaurant does not serve alcohol, but offers Pepsi and Coke products and bottled water.


Talkbacks

bluesphee | April 1, 2009 at 6:30 p.m. (report)

I've probably eaten there about 10 times and I've heard other people say similar things about the owner being unfriendly. So I know I'm not the only one! :) I'm glad others feel the opposite way though because I like that they are successful. Come to think of it he never seemed unfriendly per se, but he just looks insanely bored haha. Maybe he just has a demeanor that people can read incorrectly. Regardless, I wouldn't let my comments keep anyone away from trying it.

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jgard087 | March 30, 2009 at 5:01 p.m. (report)

this article makes me long for the Shah...one of the best around, especially when you arrive close to the moment when they transition to fresh batch masala. and they are extremely friendly. I don't understand what the previous comment was all about. I've never had a bad experience, and don't mine the line knowing what's at the end of it. I find myself thinking of ways to streamline their business...imagine how much their profit margin would increase if they were able to capture the customers "that got away" after seeing how long the line is.

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jhill0129 | March 30, 2009 at 11:23 a.m. (report)

As I've stated on a previous talkback, Shah Jee's is awesome. Their chicken masala is my master. But you have to possess a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em attitude." What I mean is, the lines are always going to be long and they're always going to be slow. You either need to get there by 11-11:15 or go around 1 pm or later. I used to go during "rush hour" and stand there for a half an hour or more all pissed off and hungry. Also, they are very friendly and appreciative people if you talk to them. I always have a very nice conversation with the gentleman at the counter and he recognizes me as a repeat customer. Therefore, I noticed that he hooks me up with a little extra food. Yes, they're slow and the line is long, but they know people will keep coming back because they serve great food that you can't get anywhere else.

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bluesphee | March 29, 2009 at 5:42 p.m. (report)

I think Shah Jee's has pretty good food but it's a bit over-hyped. I also think it's somewhat overpriced for what you get. $7 for some rice and 4 small pieces of chicken w/ chick peas with a soda? It probably costs them about $6 for each $7 meal they serve. It is downtown though so I guess that's not totally out of line. The other thing I have to call out is the owner seems like the most unfriendly guy on the planet. I really don't care because I just want my food and you're not there to have a conversation, but for how long the lines are and how much $ the guy is raking in you'd think he'd show some appreciation to returning customers.

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funhouse | March 28, 2009 at 8:16 a.m. (report)

love this place...chana masala, saag paneer, so good!

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