A lot has changed since Jerusalem-born “Mama” Ayesha Abraham introduced Washingtonians to Middle Eastern cooking in the 1960s. Hummus no longer needs an explanation, and in the 1990s, the restaurant—formerly known as the Calvert Cafe—evolved from a homey hole in the wall to a polished place where black-suited servers waited on regulars. (Helen Thomas, the late White House reporter, claimed her own booth.) Today the buzz has faded from the persimmon-hued space, but the friendly and eager waitstaff maintains the feel of a family-run restaurant.
Home-style dishes are still the way to go. Start with hummus scattered with ground lamb or spiced kibbeh, fried ground-beef patties that make perfect vehicles for thick Lebanese yogurt. Cabbage rolls filled with rice and cumin-scented lamb are the stars on an otherwise unremarkable plate of “stuffed specialties.” Worthier of a sampler is the combination platter heaped with an assortment of smoky kebabs, more kibbeh, and fragrant Persian-style rice. Waiters are quick to recommend the mouzat, a lamb shank braised in tomato stew, and we’re glad we listened. The tender meat is addictive, even with a feast’s worth of other dishes on the table.
Though Abraham passed away 20 years ago, you can catch a glimpse of her in a colorful mural on the side of the building where she joins 11 Presidents, Democrat and Republican alike.
Open daily for lunch and dinner.