Each month, in our Restaurants Revisited conversation, MnMo food critics Jason DeRusha and Joy Summers return to an “old favorite” restaurant and assess how it’s faring.
Joy: This is an under-the-radar gem that will hopefully get more attention in its new location just across the Wabasha Street Bridge from downtown St. Paul.
Jason: Babani’s is a family-owned St. Paul institution that claimed to be the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States when it opened back in 1997. The Kurds are an ethnic group with their own language, but not their own country—today they live mainly in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Kurdish food has a lot in common with Greek and Mediterranean.
Joy: I know it’s wrong and I should have waited, but I had to start with baklava. I love it so much when it’s fresh baked! I devoured those flaky layers, dripping with honey.
Jason: The dowjic is chicken and lemon soup with a great tangy bite balanced by the flavors of basil and yogurt—it’s a terrific winter warm up. My favorite entrée is the Kubay Sawar, crushed wheat is made into a dough and stuffed with ground beef, onion, and spices and then sautéed in olive oil.
Offerings at Babani’s
photo by tj turner
Joy: I reveled in the little bowl of simple red lentils, called niskena, dotted with sweet onion.
Jason: I also liked the Kubay Brinj, another fried dumpling. The shell gets brown and crispy, but the beef inside had more of an earthy flavor than the Sawar, perhaps because of its healthy dose of parsley.
Joy: Can we declare this the winter of dumplings? I want everything stuffed together and fried, if possible. If I have to branch out, the biryani rice was another aromatic, tasty, and hearty dish that made for great leftovers.
Jason: Don’t miss the Kurdish lemonade, made in house from whole lemons and dried limes, which lend a funky, medicinal note. At $2.50 a glass, it’s an integral part of an incredibly affordable and delicious experience at the best—and only—Kurdish restaurant in town.
Babani’s Quick Tips:
Bargain Lunch: Monday-Friday only, $8.50
Origin Story: Jamal, of the Kurdish Babani tribe, met Gail, a beautiful Minnesota blonde
Don’t-Miss Side: The Tanyata: half tabouli and half yogurt-coated cucumber-dill salad
32 E. Fillmore Ave., St. Paul, 651-602-9964, babanis.com