Yafa Cafe, is a Middle Eastern Street Food restaurant, located in the Saint James neighbourhood of Winnipeg. As regular readers of the blog know, I don’t drive. As a result, much of my reviewing of restaurants takes place in the downtown, and neighbouring areas. I do try, when life as a priest takes me out to other areas of the city to use those occasions as opportunities to sample the restaurant offerings from those neighbourhoods, as well.
In the last little while I’ve been thinking that I ‘d like to make a bit of an effort to try and make more visits to some of those other neighbourhoods. Living closer to Portage Avenue, Winnipeg’s best known street, I decided that I would try to visit a few more places in St. James. Portage Avenue goes straight through St. James meaning that bus service down into the area is pretty good.
I was riding the bus, and was looking out to see where I might stop, when I noticed the bright, neon sign for Yafa Cafe off to my right. I road for a couple of more stops, and did see a couple of more restaurants, but none of them particularly caught my eye, so I got off and walked back to Yafa. While I was walking I remembered that I had heard about the cafe before they opened, but somehow or other its existence had gone completely from my mind,(as do most things, it seems).
I walked in to a brightly lit location. The street windows allow a lot of natural light to pour in. There is a variety of tables to choose from, and one little booth that was set up with a hookah pipe and couch. The young woman behind the counter asked me if I had been before, and when I said no, she explained that the cafe specialized in Middle Eastern street food. Ordering was done at the counter. Cutlery was off to the side, and if I wanted water I could get some from the big metal canisters sitting by the window.
While the food is done counter style, the service here is still quite good. Over my two visits I was well received and looked after.
As I looked over the menu I noticed that it contained a lot of dishes that fall into the small plate category. I decided I would order two or three and then see how things went from there. I ordered Labne, Za’taar on pita, and another pita that was similar to a pizza as far as its toppings were concerned.
All three dishes were quite enjoyable. The Labne was smooth, and creamy, and the seasoning was cut in somewhat to the richness but not enough to remove that sense. The Za’atar, had a nice crunch and a certain grittiness to it that I quite liked. The third item, the pizza like dish was also very good with a good mixture of toppings and plenty of flavour.
There was though, one disappointing element to my lunch and that was that all the pitas were dry and crumbly. Instead of being able to easily pull off and fold pieces as I ate them, the pieces all ended up cracking and breaking off. Still the food was very tasty.
After eating all this I chose to add a little dessert to my meal. I couldn’t resist the bright orange of the Kunafe Nabulsia which you see pictured above. Kunafe Nabulsia is a dish consisting of cheese that is covered in shredded pastry, a rose flavoured syrup, and pistachios. The pistachios on this slice are a little scant. Typical of desserts in a lot of other parts of the world, this is not overly sweet. I did find that it was quite filling, and that my piece could be quite nicely be split between two.
I also ordered a Turkish Coffee to drink with my meal. It comes in a pot with a nice, little china cup to serve it in. The cardamom does a good job in mediating the strength of the coffee.
Yafa for Shawarma
While I was dining the first time, a family came in for a meal, and ordered, among other things, the Shawarma platter. I figured that the next time I went I would order that. I arrived a little later in the day the second time and I noticed that there were several Hookah pipes out among the various diners.
To go along with my platter, I ordered the Jerusalem lentil soup. This was a good addition to my meal. It was quite creamy, and full of flavour. It made a great starter to the meal.
The Shawarma Platter when it came was good and substantial. The meat was as tender as you could want, and the rice was very well cooked. The rice was nice and moist with every grain being separated from the next. The little bit of salad add a nice bit of acidity as a counterpart to the rich dairy of the meat topping.
I also decided to try something a little different for my beverage choice and ordered the cardamom latte. This beverage was pleasingly milky with a mild spiciness to it. It’s a nice, relaxing kind of beverage to order. When I went for dessert, I chose the classic, Baklava. The pastry was good and flaky and the nutty filling was sweet, and densely packed. There was just a little bit of excess syrup which is the way I prefer my baklava
The one big difference with this visit is that there were three hookah pipes in use. I’m not sure why, since hookahs make use of tobacco, that they are exempt from smoking bans. However, with three of them going, one of which smelled like low-grade roofing tar, some of the pleasure was taking out of the dining experience, as the smell interfered with fully enjoying the meal.
As far as the food is concerned, I would definitely go back to Yafa Cafe. However, I’d want to find a time where the Hookah pipes are not in use.