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A dimly lit room with a projector behind a bar.
Ma’am Saab is finally open on Friday, May 26.
Chrisman Studios

First Look at Pakistani Restaurant Ma’am Saab, Opening Today in Downtown Charleston

Peruse the menu and peek around the space at Ma’am Saab

Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas.

Pakistani restaurant Ma’am Saab will finally open its doors today at 251 Meeting Street in downtown Charleston. Co-owners Maryam Ghaznavi and Raheel Gauba are ready to show off how they’ve transformed the former Jestine’s space and premiere a new menu full of traditional Pakistani comfort foods.

Charleston first got a taste of Ma’am Saab in 2020 when it opened as a food stall at the now-defunct Workshop food hall. Since then, the wife and husband duo, Ghaznavi and Gauba, have gone on to open two locations of their casual Pakistani cafe Malika Canteen in Mount Pleasant and James Island. They announced the downtown location of Ma’am Saab in 2021, and today is the big day to reveal the newer, more grown-up version of the restaurant.

“We’re looking forward to seeing all of the people who’ve been supporting us for a long time,” says Ghaznavi, “They should expect the same flavors, the same hospitality, and the same experience that they got a tiny glimpse of at Workshop. But at this moment here, we’re able to fully immerse them in the culture and in the food and elevate the experience from the Workshop days and host them the way it was meant to be.”

A dimly-lit dining room with arches in the window.
Ma’am Saab mixes AI-generated art with traditional Pakistani decor.
Mike Ledford
A white chair with a colorful pillow.
The interiors at Ma’am Saab will look very different from those of the previous tenant, Jestine’s.
Mike Ledford
A bar with a screen behind it. The screen shows an astronaut.
In the evening, the bar lights up with brilliant oranges and purples.
Mike Ledford

While some menu items from the Workshop days have remained, like the butter chicken and samosas, Ghaznavi says she wanted to add traditional items that customers find in traditional Pakistani restaurants like biryani or nalli nihari, a stew with marrow bones. She also wanted to introduce dishes that are only found in Pakistani homes, like aloo anday, an egg and potato soup in an onion-tomato broth. Ghaznavi and Gauba want customers to experience the same flavors they offer guests at their house.

“You may not be able to understand what the menu says at first,” says, Gauba, “But at first bite, it’s going to feel like an old friend. It’s going to feel familiar to your core. Because the food is made with love. The flavor profile just hits a side of your palate that recognizes that this is true comfort food. We are taking that very seriously.”

The cocktail menu also draws from traditional flavors of Pakistan and is very unique, because each drink can be made without alcohol or with the addition of Delta-9 THC, without losing the original taste of the libation. Gauba says they wanted to pay respect to Muslim culture by having a wealth of non-alcoholic options on the list.

A white menu with Pakistani food listed.
The Ma’am Saab menu as of May 25 (subject to change).
Mike Ledford
Cocktails can be made without alcohol or with THC.
Mike Ledford

For those that remember the country-kitsch interiors of the former Jestine’s, the space will be unrecognizable. The team stripped the room to the original bricks, added gothic arches to the expansive windows, and built a bar that looks like it belongs in a nightclub. The room mixes the past with the futuristic, filled with traditional Pakistani decorations but also technicolor art created by artificial intelligence. Gauba says that they wanted to add an international flair to the corner of Wentworth and Meeting Streets, because in the time since Jestine’s opened in 1996, Charleston has become a much more international city.

“When you’re in here, you are leaving the outside world outside,” says Gauba, “You are part of the experience — a sensory experience for your eyes, for your ears, for your nose, and for your mouth. And you might just find that you’ve rediscovered yourself with your sense of adventure.”

Portraits of Malala Yousafzai and Bill Murray on a shelf.
Bill Murray and Malala Yousafzai greet customers.
Chrisman Studios
A bright screen reading “Ma’am Saab.”
The duo behind Ma’am Saab wanted customers to feel immersed in their world.
Chrisman Studios
Exterior of three-story building.
Ma’am Saab will open this evening at 5 p.m.
Chrisman Studios

Ma’am Saab will open Tuesday through Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday through Saturday, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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