Where to Bab Al-Yemen in Kenmore Square, where you can sit at a regular table or eat dinner in the majlis area in the front of the restaurant, which is the traditional way, where you settle into pillows on the floor under curved stained-glass windows. If you peer up through the stained-glass, known in his home country as Qamaria, says owner Ahmed Mahmood, “It’s the same look as in Yemen.”
Why Because there is no other restaurant in the region serving an entire Halal menu of Yemeni food.
The Back Story Mahmood, who was born in New Mexico and raised in Yemen, returned to the United States for college and then worked in tech for various school systems, including Washington, D.C. In 2016, he opened Fava Bean Mediterranean in CambridgeSide (closed earlier this year), then during the pandemic, launched Marhaba in Tysons Corner Center, a mall outside Washington, D.C. It’s now run by his brother, Abdullah. Bab Al-Yemen occupies the space where Petit Robert Bistro once reigned. The Yemen restaurant has two levels (45 seats on the main floor, 55 below).
What to Eat The recipes for the menu come from Mahmood’s mother. There is a feeling here that there’s a mama in the kitchen (it’s actually a male chef) because the food is so homey. Stunning tanoor flatbreads, made in a cylindrical, clay oven, also called tanoor (tandoor is a similar Indian version), arrive at the table spilling over the edges of a large plate, blistered in spots, and still quite hot. They are spectacular. With pureed lentil soup, a very thin version, along with a dish of homemade hot sauce, this could be a meal. But then you’d miss one of the rice dishes, all made with the famous Yemeni spices, like the Lamb Mandi, with meat you can eat with a spoon, or Mathbi Chicken, which falls off the bone when you pick it up. None are particularly fiery. Lunch at Bab Al-Yemen is cheaper than dinner, oriented to the local student population, with Middle Eastern hits such as chicken shawarma wrap and falafel plate.
What to Drink Yemeni cocktail of mango, dates, bananas, berries, and Vimto, a bottled purple syrup often served at iftar, the meal that ends the day during the Ramadan fast. Also, teas, Arabic coffee, and Qishr, tea made with spiced, dried coffee husks.
The Takeaway Many of his dinner customers are Middle Eastern, says Mahmood. And you can see and hear that everyone at every table is having a good time; the room feels joyful. Come for the Yemeni specialties, stay for the warm hospitality. 468 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square, Boston, 857-250-2943, babalyemenboston.com