Boston's Hidden Restaurants

Cafe Jaffa (CLOSED)

48 Gloucester Street, Boston, MA 02115
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--- Winner, Best Middle Eastern Restaurant in Boston Area, 2009 ---

Photo of Cafe Jaffa, Boston, MA The Back Bay of Boston might not seem the type of place where you would find little-known, neighborhood dining spots that tend to fly under the radar. Indeed, many if not most of the restaurants that line both Newbury Street and Boylston Street (as well as intersecting streets such as Berkeley and Clarendon) are very popular, as tourists, locals, and businesspeople all fight it out for tables. But get away from some of the main drags within the Back Bay and you will most certainly find some hidden gems, including a wonderful Middle Eastern restaurant on Gloucester Street called Caffe Jaffa, a friendly, unpretentious spot that won't break the bank.

Cafe Jaffa is easy to miss, not only because it is located about midway between Newbury and Boylston on a relatively quiet street, but also because the storefront is rather humble and unassuming. Walking through the door, however, the rather plain exterior opens up into a dark, exotic-feeling and almost romantic dining area, with a hardwood floor, lots of exposed brick, low-hanging pendant lamps, prints and paintings on the walls, hand-painted candlelit tables, and a high ceiling with corresponding high windows in the front. Even though Cafe Jaffa is quite a narrow place, the dining area has a good amount of room because it goes back a good ways, with the room seemingly getting darker and more cozy as you go further and further back.

While much of the food at Cafe Jaffa could be put under the general term "Middle Eastern cuisine," it seems that the restaurant leans a bit toward Israeli and Lebanese food. The drink list, for example, includes Almaza beer (Lebanese) and Maccabee (Israeli), while apps and entrees on the menu include potato bourekas, which are popular in Israeli, and tabouli, which is a staple in both Lebanon and Israel. A few standouts on the menu at Cafe Jaffa include a smoky, rich-tasting baba ghanoush; a smooth and nicely seasoned houmus; an outstanding tahini that has a delightfully bitter and sour finish from the sesame seeds and lemon juice; firm and hearty vegetarian grape leaves that have just a hint of lemon; a mild-tasting and tender chicken schnitzel served on a bed of rice; and delicious lamb, beef and chicken schwarma options with the meats roasted on a rotisserie and spiced perfectly. Other menu items include shish kabob, grilled swordfish, lamb chops, stuffed cabbage, and falafel, as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches. For those who have room for dessert, Cafe Jaffa serves such items as cheesecake, baklava and carrot cake.

Folks looking for a restaurant to go to in the Back Bay needn't assume that they will have to wait in line or make reservations well in advance, especially with little-known jewels such as Cafe Jaffa waiting to be discovered. Parking can be a bit difficult around Gloucester Street, but it is tough to argue against a place that excels in food, atmosphere, and service, all while keeping prices at a reasonable level. A big thumbs-up goes to this humble little Middle Eastern spot right in the heart of one of Boston's most popular neighborhoods.