Yafa Mediterranean Grill, 4004 Little Rd, Ste 112, Arlington. 817-969-5404. 11am-8pm Sun, 10am–9pm Mon-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Most Texans probably can’t tell the difference between Mediterranean food made by an Egyptian versus food made by someone from Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan. The staples of Middle Eastern menus (grilled chicken and beef, hummus, pita bread, and phyllo dough-clad desserts) are essentially the same in most countries. Yafa Mediterranean Grill doesn’t present food that’s strikingly different from what you’d see at most Mediterranean places, but the cuisine coming from transplanted Jordanian Mohammed Irwil’s kitchen stands out.
The hummus was simple and unfussy – not much garlic or lemon, although a generous dollop of gloriously fruity olive oil and a sprinkle of earthy paprika livened up the chickpea appetizer. The hummus comes solo or topped with beef shawarma (chewy, savory, spiced beef), which did a lot to elevate the dip. The presentation was completed by a few whole chickpeas and deliciously salty slivers of pickles. Plain, flat pita bread accompanied the dip.
Falafel are made slightly smaller in Jordanian kitchens – the six on Yafa’s appetizer plate were smaller than ping-pong balls, and they looked like they were prepared in a mini-muffin tin. A subtle sweet spice (maybe thyme – Irwil wouldn’t share what’s in the traditional za’atar herb seasoning) made the dish more interesting. The balls were crispy on the outside and almost fluffy on the inside, and the tahini dipping sauce packed a nice additional garlicky punch.
The shawarma was so tasty as part of an appetizer that getting the meat in sandwich form seemed to be a no-brainer. The beef had a nice caramelized coating from the grill and was slathered with more of the excellent tahini, piled with tomatoes, onions, and pickles, and rolled in a wrap made from grilled shrak bread – pita bread’s thinner, crispier cousin.
Shish Tawook is essentially chicken kebabs marinated with yogurt and grilled, and it’s a lot easier to eat the chicken in sandwich form than on a skewer. The Shish Tawook sandwich included chunks of the moist bird sans skewer, along with tomatoes and onions, folded into soft, fluffy pita bread, which was a lot better than the version accompanying the hummus. A lemony mayo-garlic sauce, almost like an aioli, was served alongside, and the stuff was so good that my dining companions and I wanted more to put on the falafel.
From the dessert menu, the warbat – which looks like baklava, with flaky layers of phyllo dough coated by syrup – were a subtle, sensational surprise. But instead of nut filling, warbat are stuffed with a cream filling that wasn’t too sweet and whose texture lay somewhere between custard and cheesecake. The top of the dessert was light, flaky, and dappled with finely chopped green pistachios. The base was thick with the sugary syrup. All of the decadent desserts are made in-house by the owner’s wife, Hannah. The chef said the recipes are “time-consuming” but that any good cook could probably turn out a decent version. She was being modest: It’s no small feat, turning sheets of phyllo dough into miracles of creamy pastry.
Yafa’s menu is heavy on vegetarian choices, but there’s also vegan/dairy-free cuisine available. The portions at Yafa are generous, and most of the food is cooked when you order it. Because nothing’s sitting under a heat lamp, your dining experience will be leisurely at this little six-top restaurant hidden in South Arlington.
Yafa Mediterranean Grill
Hummus w/shawarma $5.99
Beef shawarma sandwich $4.99
Shish Tawook sandwich $4.49