When Babani’s threw open its doors in 1997, it was said to be the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States. Housed in a gulag-blocky, Dunder Mifflin-esque office building in St. Paul, it’s not hip by any stretch — but the food is transportive and very similar to what co-owner Tanya Fuad’s father might have eaten in Iraq before he emigrated to Minnesota in the 1950s.
Minnevangelist co-founder Ashlea Halpern first sang Babani’s praises in a Bon Appétit story in 2019. The pandemic has taken its toll with shorter hours and slashed menu items, but this week’s feast of a lunch reminded us just how super special this restaurant really is.
We live for the kubey brinj — crispy fried rice dumplings stuffed with ground beef, minced onions, and walnuts (pictured up top with tabouli and jaajic, a refreshing cucumber dill yogurt salad) — and the sheik Babani, tender baked eggplant padded with spiced meat and served under a tangy blanket of tomato sauce. But no meal is complete without naska nan wa paneer (pillowy Kurdish bread and creamy marinated feta) and a healing bowl of dowjic: yogurty, lemony chicken soup for the soul.
Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant
32 E. Fillmore Ave., St. Paul, MN; 651-602-9964.