Every time I step into Kabul Restaurant, the soft lighting, dangling ceiling plants and spicy aroma make me feel like State Street is miles away. Great food, moderate prices and attentive service make me grateful that it's actually only a few blocks from campus.

Kabul, located near Library Mall on State Street, offers a variety of Afghani and Mediterranean dishes. The menu ranges from Afghani-style meatballs, chicken couscous and lamb kabobs to numerous vegetarian dishes, including cooked eggplant and, my favorite, scallion-filled dumplings.

Unique spices and sauces make Kabul stand out from the many chain restaurants in Madison. Yogurt-mint sauce, yogurt-curry dressing and cilantro-jalapeño and red-pepper chutneys add a little something extra that you won't find just anywhere on State Street.

If all this sounds a little too daring for your taste buds, there are many tamer dishes such as lemon chicken or fresh salads. However, if you try something new, you may wonder why you've never realized mint and dumplings make such a delicious pair. Don't be intimidated by seemingly unpronounceable dish names. Just ask, and the friendly wait staff will gladly help you.

The food and service are accentuated by the restaurant's intimate atmosphere. Kabul seems small to begin with; butter-yellow walls with dark wood accents and candles accompanied by low-hanging lights make it even cozier. The entire place exudes warmth: warm colors, warm food, warm service and certainly not to be overlooked, warm coffee. Kabul's Arabic coffee has a spice all its own, putting the ordinary cup of joe to shame.

While you may find that you feel far away from Madison inside Kabul, you'll soon be reminded by the host's "Wisghanistan" T-shirt and a clear view of State Street from the window tables that you don't need to go all the way to Afghanistan for something a little different.