Laffa Bar and Grill
Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
1326 Peninsula Blvd, Hewlett, NY
Pas Yisroel and Yoshon
Vaad of Five Towns and Far Rockaway
We were being dazzled by our waiter at Laffa Bar and Grill, who was telling us how by the age of 16 he’d lived in China, Jamaica, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil and Canada. What prompted the conversation was the presence of my guest food critics for this restaurant experience into Five Towns: the famous Orthodox Jewish Olympic Ping-Pong Champion Estee Ackerman and her coach and father Glenn. Ping-Pong is a popular sport around the world – especially in China – and our waiter was savvy and gracious enough to share his own love of the sport with my guests.
Savvy and gracious would also be the words I’d use to describe Laffa Bar and Grill as a whole. Everything about the place is savvy- from its open, airy and well-lit dining space, its spacious post-Covid-world outdoor seating area, to its highly entertaining and easily loveable staff. The graciousness was front and center when it came to the size of portions and the restaurant’s bold use of seasonings! Well-seasoned food is the key to feeling satisfied and full when you eat a meal (have you ever eaten a boiled egg with no salt? You can eat 20 and still be hungry). Well-seasoned food is also the key to feeling like your hard-earned money was well-spent when you go out to a nice restaurant. Thankfully, everything at Laffa’s is well–seasoned, and nothing on their menu, be it appetizer or entree, will have you going away still feeling hungry.
But first, a laffa is a traditional middle-eastern flatbread, made with simple ingredients such as water, flour, salt, olive oil (some add yeast or sugar). It can be known in different regions by different names, but it is in any case a Jewish offering, originated by Iraqi Jews who modified it from traditional Iraqi flatbreads. Some prefer it served with crispy edges while others may prefer it to be fluffy and soft. It’s eaten alongside – and tastes great with – well, just about everything. Let me translate this for Americans: if you can eat it in a wrap or a tortilla, it tastes even better in a laffa!
Laffa Bar and Grill was founded by brothers Aharon and Alex Avizov and their cousin Yakov Yusupov, and specializes in Middle Eastern and Central Asian cuisine. They purchased the restaurant, formerly known as Ahuva’s Grill in 2019. Having been raised with a passion for cooking, they’ve made a name for themselves in Five-Towns for their authentic Bukharian dishes. Laffa’s menu is full of offerings from recipes that were passed down in their family from generation to generation, such as the Plov ($15.95/$26.95, depending on the size) (rice, carrots, beef and lamb), Bakhsh ($15.95/$26.95) (rice, cilantro and hand-cut beef) and the Samsa (more on this later). Laffa Bar and Grill also stands out for it’s innovative delicious soups, such as the Pelmeni ($11.95) (vegetables with meat dumplings), Yemenite Beef ($13.95) and the Yemenite Chicken ($12.95) (both served with kubaneh, hilbeh and schug). Finally, who doesn’t enjoy a savory meat pizza? Try their 10” Shawarma Pizza ($23.95), Shredded Chicken Pizza ($23.95) or Beef Brisket Pizza ($25.95).
“I love our restaurant because it brings people together,” co-owner Aharon told The Jewish Press. “People choose our restaurant to celebrate their happiest family occasions.”
I instantly fell in love with my first appetizer, the Beef Samsa ($7.95) (served with tomato salsa). Deliciously deceptive in its appearance, you could mistake it for a well-toasted dinner roll, but a healthy bite reveals a flaky sweet outer crust, a soft fluffy middle and insides stuffed with onion and beef. I could have eaten Samsas all night and spoiled my ability to eat anything else, but thankfully for me it comes just two large pieces a plate.
The waiter smartly brought out other tasty appetizers (to remind me I was there on business) like the Central Asian-inspired Manti ($13.95/$19.95), the dumpling version of a Samsa, and a perennial favorite in Central Asian and Chinese cuisine. Laffa’s Manti is larger than a typical dumpling, with a firm but juicy exterior and filled with savory beef and onions.
Also a must-try is the Borscht ($12.95). Many of our Eastern European readers may have come to expect borscht to be a deep-red, beet-root, onion and cabbage soup – sometimes hot, sometimes cold – but in fact borscht can come in a variety of inspired recipes. At Laffa, the borscht is also served with tender beef carrots and potatoes. Love fries? Give the potato the night off and opt for the Zucchini Fries ($9.95): thick meaty slices, breaded and fried. Salad offerings include the Matbucha Salad ($16.95) (roasted tomatoes and red peppers seasoned with garlic and chili peppers) and the Avocado Salad ($18.95) (tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, seasoned with lemon and olive oil) with chicken or burger ($26.95).
Whenever I am lucky enough to do a restaurant review I’m always on the search for that special experience unique to that establishment alone: a reason to bring your friends and family that you can get in few other places. If your entourage is three or more (or even just a very hungry two), treat yourself to the Chicken or Meat Lover Charcuterie boards. These mini-meat buffets are seasoned and grilled to perfection, then arranged on a charcuterie board and brought out and centered in the middle of your table. There’s the Chicken Lovers (feeds 4 people, $124.95) (schnitzel, baby chicken, chicken kofta, steak pargit, grille chicken breast) and the Meat Lovers (feeds 4 people, $179.95) (rib eye steak, kofta kabab, chicken kofta kebab, baby chicken, land kafta kabab, steak pargit, beef shish kebab).
“Once you’ve tried everything on the board, it’s a nice combination of flavors and tastes,” Glenn Ackerman confirmed, after we literally tried everything on the board. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but you’ll definitely have to stand up to see and converse with the rest of your entourage seated on the other side of the table, so generously stacked are the portions of meat on these two offerings. Of course, you could always text them.
For cocktails, Laffa offers an assortment of mimosas and bellinis (champagne-based creations). I enjoyed a refreshing, bubbly Bombay Bellini ($12) (mango nectar and champagne).
Laffa has a very large and festive late night clientele and a usually quieter family-oriented clientele for lunch and dinner. I asked our amazingly gracious waiter what attracted him to work in the food service industry; “I came to the restaurant industry so I would have more time to spend raising my kids,” Ricky Basalo said. “I used to be a flight attendant and then I worked my way to become a pilot. But it’s hard to find a piloting job from 8-4 p.m.” No kidding.
“Ping pong is the second most popular sport in the world, soccer is number one,” Glenn shared with our table. In that case, I might suggest that Laffa be your number one outing this week for a world-class meal with a memorable, loving staff and all-around experience you’ll want to talk about with your friends and loved ones for a long time to come.