In Dining Reviews

Shah Jee's is a sneaky Milwaukee institution.

Cheap Eats: Shah Jee's

Season's eatings! The weather may be getting colder, but Dining Month at OnMilwaukee is just cooking up, dishing out your winning picks in this year's Best of Dining poll. Dining Month is brought to you by Fein Brothers, your premier food service equipment and supply dealer in Wisconsin since 1929. Congratulations to all of the winners, and happy eating for all those who voted!

Looking for satisfying meals that leave you with a full belly and a full wallet? You've come to the right place. Welcome to Cheap Eats, a new OnMilwaukee food series where we shine a spotlight on Milwaukee restaurants serving up tasty dishes for less than $10.

Shah Jee's

770 N. Jefferson St.
(414) 271-5354

Dish: Combo platter of chicken masala and aalu palak, with rice and a soda
Total cost: $8

Everyone has the same initial question walking into Shah Jee's Pakistani Restaurant for the first time: Uh, so where the heck IS Shah Jee's?

Walk into the building located at 770 N. Jefferson St., and you'll be greeted by something more like a grey boring office building than a vibrant international cuisine hotspot. Am I in the right place? Is this some kind of social experiment that I'm failing? Should I have prepared for a job interview or a lunch?

But as any good Milwaukeean (with an even better palate) knows, you're in the right place. You just have to walk down a few stairs and follow the roar of the noontime rush into the building's modest basement food court, and you'll have found one of the city's finest and cheapest culinary hidden gems: a lunchtime secret that treats your belly as well as your billfold.

Now, when I say "food court," I truly mean a food court – complete with plastic lunch trays and utensils, Styrofoam dishes, bare walls and ordering from a lunch line like a classic school time hot lunch. But what Shah Jee's dining area lacks in flavorful atmosphere, it utterly makes up for in flavorful food – at an even more appetizing price.

For less than an Alexander Hamilton, Shah Jee's offers a steaming, scrumptious plate filled with two of its five options: chicken masala (tender boneless chicken cooked in a delicious bath of onions, tomatoes and garlic); aalu palak (a blend of spinach, potato chunks and a whole bunch of spices and herbs); daal masoor (red lentils mixed with garlic cloves, herbs and spices); chana masala (garbanzo beans stewed with onions and tomatoes); and saag paneer (Indian cheese cubes mixed with authentic herbs and spinach).

I typically go with the first two options, a heap of basmati rice and a soda, all of which costs me a whopping $8. But no matter what you order, you're getting your money's worth in terms of flavor. The chicken masala is always succulently juicy and tender, exploding with pleasantly warm spice, and the aalu palak is a delicious complement. Plus, when you've eaten all of the chicken pieces and potato chunks, there's often a delectable pools of the respective sauces they've been stewing in, so you just scoop your rice into there and soak up even more flavor.

It's a totally satisfying way to snag a work time lunch (and Shah Jee's is only open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., so it'll almost certainly be a work time lunch). You'll get a plate full of flavor, but you won't be so sleepily overstuffed that you spend the rest of the day trying to fight off an impending food coma in your cubicle.

So while you may walk into Shah Jee's asking one question, you're almost certain to walk out with a new inquiry in mind: How soon can we come back?

Pro tip: God help you if you forget to grab yourself some of the green sauce available in a squeeze bottle near Shah Jee's cutlery station. It's delicious and essential. I don't know what it is, and while I'm sure I could ask or look it up, I'd rather just assume that it's made of unicorn giggles and puppy smiles.


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