A newcomer on the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food scene is Yafa Grill on St. Johns Bluff Road. A foodie friend from one of our Dinner Adventures tipped us off to the value and deliciousness that is Yafa Grill. It’s located in a former fast food restaurant building, but once you walk inside you would never know. Set up as quick service style, there are trays of dishes displayed just behind the counter, with the gyro/shawarma machines across the back wall of the kitchen area, stocked with meat. The seating is a definite upgrade with decent sized tables with nice looking sturdy chairs and benches along the walls. TVs in the corners of the dining room show live sports and daily news. Big windows let light in, and photographs on the walls display the Jerusalem roots of the restaurant.
On our visit the cashier noticed the overwhelmed look on our faces as we tried to make some dinner choices, so he recommended a couple of different combo platters. We ended up sharing a Yafa Mix Grill Platter ($12) and a Salad Combo ($7). The Yafa Mix Grill came with one chicken kebab, one kafta (beef) kebab, chicken shawarma, and beef steak shawarma, with beans over rice. The Salad Combo came with hummus, babaganoush, tabouli, yafa salad, chickpea salad, and red cabbage. We also had several pitas. We could have fed a family of four with the amount of food between those two dishes.
Wow. The meats were incredibly flavorful and fresh tasting. The kebabs were both juicy, with the kafta being especially well spiced. The chicken kebab was good, but as chicken kebabs usually are it was pretty straightforward. The shawarmas were a delight. I’m always worried about shawarma meat being dry, but there was no sign of this at Yafa Grill. The chicken and steak shawarma wre nice and moist and flavorful. It would be hard to choose between the kafta kebab and the shawarma on a future visit. The Yafa Mix Grill Platter is the way to go. The beans and rice that came with the meats were not particularly exciting, but they were a nice accompaniment to the meats. The salads on the salad combo looked exceptional arranged on the plate. Admiring our photos before we dug in, we only hoped they tasted as good as they looked. For the most part they did. The hummus and babaganoush were smooth and flavorful. They scooped up perfectly onto fresh pieces of torn pita. The yafa salad was made of tomatoes, onions, spices, and other chopped vegetables. It was a refreshing compliments to the meats, along with the chickpea salad which also had fresh chopped tomatoes and onions. The cabbage looked awesome in all its purple glory, but it didn’t particularly have a lot going for it. There wasn’t anything wrong with the cabbage, it was just a bit bland, unlike the other salads.
In addition to the Yafa Mix Grill Platter and the Salad Combo we also tried the Yafa Kenafa for dessert. Kenafa is a middle eastern dessert made of a variety of cheeses. It is bright orange in color, fairly dense and a bit chewy in texture. It is served warm and has a crispy pastry topping. The closest thing to compare it to is a dense cheesecake. Although kenafa differs in it is stringy when you cut it and pull a bite off, instead of crumbling like cheesecake. The kenafa was honestly a bit overwhelming for us. We found it curious with both a cheese and sweet flavor going. While it wasn’t our cup of tea, it is nice to have a place to get kenafa for those who love it.
Yafa Grill offers some of the most authentic middle eastern dishes that even we could not name by looking at. But they also offer dishes that everyone can enjoy, no matter one’s familiarity with middle eastern food- chicken kebabs, rice, pitas. We at JRR are boundary pushers when it comes to food, and we always encourage our friends and family to try new things. When you go to Yafa Grill, try something you haven’t had before. You might not love it, but maybe you will. We loved Yafa Grill for the authentic and well prepared food, pleasant dining experience, helpful staff, and surprising prices. There is something for everyone to enjoy affordably, even picky kids or grandparents.