Wafa’s Authentic Mediterranean Food is an apt name for this tiny Forest Hills storefront. But this joint could just as well be called Wafa's Soul Food or Wafa's Home Cooking because that's exactly the type of grub you'll find Wafa Chami cooking in her namesake restaurant. Wafa's cuisine isn't African-American soul food though, it’s food with soul. Specifically Lebanese food as taught to Wafa by her mother.
As numerous Chowhound posts have pointed out, there are usually daily specials ranging from fusilli in a sauce of lamb, beef, and red beans, to stuffed cabbage and other treats. On my visits I tend to stick to the basics, though I'm itching to try some of the specials.
I've never been all that impressed by lahmacun, a round Turkish flatbread topped with a shmear of meat and spices. Its Lebanese cousin sfiha is another story. Wafa sells them under the prosaic name, meat pies (three for $5). Each disk of homemade bread is generously topped with ground beef shot through with tomato, onions and peppers. I may never eat another lahmacun again.
Ever since Rego Park’s On The Grill closed its doors several months ago, I’ve been in a bit of a falafel depression. Wafa’s falafel ($5) is as good or better than that served by the late Tzur Kalaf. The balls are made from chickpeas, parsley, cilantro, garlic, and "secret Wafa spices." The whole lot is dressed with hummus, pickles, and garlicky homemade pickled turnips. Unless you’re an advanced chilihead, ask Wafa to use just a touch of the fiery sauce known as har.
Lamb shawerma ($7.95) is usually cooked on a vertical spit. There’s no such spit visible in Wafa’s shoebox of a restaurant, but I can forgive that omission given how good hers is. The meat is super tender thanks to a marination in red wine and balsamic vinegar that leaves it tasting like a Lebanese version of sauerbraten.
End your meal with some baklava ($4). Like most, Wafa's is sweet and packed with nuts, plus a beguiling subtle scent. The secret? A light touch of orange blossom and rose water.
Wafa's Authentic Mediterranean Food
96-08 72nd Avenue, Forest Hills NY 11375 (map)