You won't find Darwish Restaurant & Bar by looking for a sign. While there is one near the street to indicate that it is somewhere in the building, on the edifice itself, there's nothing. Just know it's the right-hand corner of 2150 South Highway 6. Don't think of it as lack of organization (the restaurant has been open for close to six months). Instead, consider the lack of signage as security against casual diners. The people who make it to Darwish truly want to be there.
And from the moment you enter the dining room, it's easy to see why. No other Persian restaurant in Houston better captures the romance of Iran. Seating includes ornate wood benches draped in tapestries, but also carpeted raised platforms that allow guests to recline and eat in traditional fashion. Most of them choose to accompany their meals with puffs on a hookah, but this is a mere distraction from the matter at hand: Though service is caring but slow, it's worth braving for a taste of the most diverse Persian menu in the city.
On my second visit, I brought along a friend of Iranian heritage who was wowed by the mix of sandwiches with smoked sausage, stews, kebabs and desserts, some of which even she'd never seen before. As at most other Persian restaurants in town, chewy barbari flatbread is cooked in the dining room and meals start with that. You can enjoy it with the fresh herbs, sliced radish and feta that come with it for free, or, if you're doing it right, order dips for two. The pair of eggplant ones, kashk-e-bademjan and mirza ghasemie, are standouts.
But pound-for-pound, your best bet on the appetizer menu is the crispy rice known as tahdig. It's available with either split pea-based stew gheymeh or herbaceous, kidney-bean-bolstered ghormeh sabzi. Either way, you and a friend can order one, share a hearty portion thereof, then still each bring home enough for a meal. My kind of starter. I had crunchy long-grain rice covered in aromatic green stew for lunch and dinner that day!
The zereshk polo, barberry-topped rice with braised chicken in a tomato-based sauce, is similarly outsized and also overwhelmingly delicious. Mine was big enough for a lunch that left me overstuffed, then two satisfying rounds of leftovers. But as much as I admire the stews and braises at Darwish, the kebabs are the stars. Jujeh kebab, made with bone-in Cornish game hen, is enviably moist, with crisp edges. Still, for the sake of diversity, the soltani kebab, which combines both barg (thinly pounded steak) and deeply flavorful ground-meat koobideh, is the best bet.
For a meal that transports, but will also continue to feed you well after you've left its colorful auspices, there's nowhere in Houston quite like Darwish.