Yemen Cafe has supplied Cobble Hill (and Bay Ridge, where they have another location) with excellent, slow-cooked lamb haneeth since the mid-'80s. It’s roasted for roughly five hours until the meat peels clean off the shank. Between the warming spices, the tiniest hint of rose, and meat so tender a fork easily cuts through, this halal lamb dish should be incorporated into city-wide HR benefit packages.
Before the lamb arrives, though, a meal at Yemen Cafe always starts the same way: complimentary whole wheat flatbread, a crunchy iceberg-and-herb salad, and a steaming hot bowl of marag, whose lamb broth smell wafts throughout the entire restaurant. If you work in the area, know that Yemen Cafe offers a bunch of discounted entrees during lunch, like $15.95 lamb chops for example, since the portions are slightly smaller.
Part of Yemen Cafe’s charm is that it feels a bit like an old-school diner. It’s unlikely you’ll ever see the dining room empty, since it partially acts as a community center or secondary dining room for people who live in the area. Expect fluorescent lighting, a big fish tank against the wall, scenic landscape paintings framed next to every table, diner plates, plenty of people drinking tea in small paper cups (they don’t serve alcohol), lemon wedges on every table, and kids dangling their feet from wooden chairs. The space feels like it hasn’t changed since 1986, and that’s a big part of the reason we love coming here.
Bring your family or a friend who perpetually craves roasted lamb, and have a quintessential NYC meat experience.
Everyone who eats here gets complimentary marag to start. This thin lamb soup is golden in color and tastes delicious slurped straight from the bowl or mixed with a little rice. Squeeze some lemon into the mix, and you’ll get an incredible hit of brightness to the warm, meaty flavor. Other than a few strands of tender lamb, there’s nothing but hearty broth - and it’s perfect just the way it is.
This tomato-based fava bean starter comes bubbling in a cast-iron cauldron. We’re suckers for stewy bean dishes where some of the favas maintain their shape and others disintegrate into bits. That’s what’s happening here, along with a ton of sauteed onions, warming spices, and actual gurgling sounds coming from the boiling pot.
A sweet starter made with curly-charred matchstick slices of whole wheat Yemeni bread. The pile is covered with a sauce that’s as white as Fluffernutter, tastes like tangy yogurt, and comes drizzled with honey and black sesame seeds on top. If you’re ordering a lot of things (and you’re someone that’s inclined to add spicy chutney whenever possible), this sticky dish will be a nice vacation from the meal’s other savory flavors.
Requisite ordering for anyone who eats lamb. It usually comes with a shank as well as a couple juicy pieces off of the bone. For an ideal bite, take some lamb, a spoonful of rice, and a splash of marag.
If you’re looking for a second entree, try this root vegetable stew full of onions, okra, peppers, and fenugreek. You get to choose whether you want it to come with roast chicken or boiled chicken. We’d opt for roast, but, either way, the tomato-based stew will be the star of the dish.