50 Favorite Places #8
That glowing review in the New York Times at the beginning of the year could well have gone to their heads – but it didn’t. Ali and Hakim are as friendly and unassuming as ever, their café’s vibe as relaxed, their food and drinks as good (or possibly better). The only difference I’ve noticed on recent visits is that it’s a bit busier. You may have to share a table at peak hours, but so what? Consider that part of its neighborly charm.
I’ve written about Yafa Café before, but very briefly, as part of my annual pre-marathon course round-up. Like Panadería Don Paco López, another marathon pick, it’s “favorite places” worthy year-round. (The fact that the two are just two and a half blocks apart does makes for some tough choices. The solution, I think, is to come back and visit them both – preferably multiple times each.)
I can think of few better ways to start the day than to sip a cup of brown sugar cardamom coffee with a piece of Yemeni honeycomb cake on the side, unless it’s to sip a cup of brown sugar cardamom coffee with two pieces of Yemeni honeycomb cake on the side. Go ahead – they’re small, and they’ll only set you back a dollar each.
Another blogger I follow has raved about Yafa’s fried chicken sandwich, and it’s certainly very good. So good, in fact, that it makes the whole Popeye’s vs. Chick-Fil-A thing seem like a kindergarten spat. (Who cares which one of you is better? Run along now, so we grown-ups can sit down and enjoy our meal in this light- and music-filled space, decorated with photographs and Yemeni artifacts.) Yafa’s take is crunchy and nicely spiced; the slaw and pickles and special sauce are next level; and the brioche bun pulls it all together.
Then there’s the lamb haneeth sandwich, which I like even more. It features lamb – nicely gamey, as it should be – cooked with onions until both are meltingly tender, then topped with more onions, these fried crunchy, along with the Yemeni condiment sahawiq. (Next time, I’m going to ask for more sahawiq – not because the sandwich wasn’t delicious with the default quantity, but simply because I love it so much.) The accompanying za’atar-dusted potato chips aren’t really necessary, but they’re welcome nonetheless.
“Welcome” is the key word here. This is a place that makes you feel welcome, whether you’re a sweaty runner, a half-frozen birder. a freelancer camped out with your laptop and a latte, or a parent with kids in tow. (Toddlers had taken over the back room the last time I was there.) It’s a true neighborhood spot – like the family’s bodega on the corner, without the cat but with really, really good food.
Yafa Cafe, 4415 Fourth Av, Sunset Park, Brooklyn