Since opening in July 2021, the Palestinian restaurant and deli has quickly become a local favorite. This week, food magazine Bon Appétit ranked it among the very best in the country, thanks to its hummus and how it honors the Kamal family’s “Palestinian homeland and their life in the diaspora.”
Baba’s Pantry has always seen long lines during its lunch and dinner rushes, ever since it first opened last summer. But on Wednesday afternoon, the wait was up to an hour as customers came to sample what was just named one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country by Bon Appétit.
Yahia Kamal, known as Baba by his family, runs the restaurant and called the award an honor.
“I’m really humbled and appreciate that position,” Kamal told KCUR. “I’ve been working with food for a long time. I’m gonna say it’s maybe about time, you know. I would like to thank my family, friends and in general, Kansas City. Everybody, not only me, you know, deserves this honor.”
He wants people to know the food is worth the long wait.
“Be a little patient with us because we are extremely busy,” Kamal said. “We are a small pantry and we are trying our best to get people not to wait that long. But we appreciate them and we love to have everybody here.”
The Palestinian deli opened at 1019 East 63rd Street in July 2021. It’s one of only two restaurants in the Midwest — and the only in Kansas City — to earn the honor of “best new restaurant” from Bon Appétit this year.
Bon Appétit praised the hummus at Baba’s Pantry as “perhaps the best we’ve ever had,” and praised the way the Kamals infused their culture in a way that “honors both his family’s Palestinian homeland and their life in the diaspora.”
Baba’s Pantry is a family affair. Kamal’s children, Omar, Kamal, Jasmine and Hannah, and his wife, Yusra Abu-Alhassab, all partnered with him to create a spot that represents their family and Palestinian homeland through its space and its food.
“When you (work with) family, they have one singular interest,” Kamal said. “Our singular interest is to be small and good. And to deliver the best Palestinian food outside of Palestine.”
During the lunch rush, the crowd waited up to an hour for their food. That hasn’t stopped people from seeking out the food at Baba’s Pantry.
Omar Kamal works as Baba’s sous-chef. He helped develop the recipe for their jackfruit shawarma, a vegan version of their popular wrap that closely resembles the original. Yusra is there every day running the front counter.
Kamal designed the décor of the restaurant and will frequently travel in from New York, where he is based, to help out. Hannah does social media, and Jasmine is responsible for the baking — especially “JuJu’s Baklava,” which is named after her.
In its stories on Baba’s Pantry, Bon Appétit specifically recommended the hummus platter with beef and lamb kebab, the falafel pita sandwich, and the baklava.
Kamal, personally, prefers his hummus with the chicken shawarma. But no matter which topping, he said the simplicity of the recipe is what makes it so addictive.
“Our hummus is really made fresh daily made with simple ingredients,” Kamal said. “Garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini and salt. Nothing else. That’s what makes it completely different — no garlic, no nothing. Just those four ingredients.”
The building Baba’s Pantry occupies had been vacant for two decades when the Kamal family designed a space to show off their father’s culinary talents.
Kamal actually began selling hummus and dips at grocery stores around Kansas City in 2004 and opened two short-lived restaurants before Baba’s Pantry.
“These are my own family recipes,” Kamal said. “I like to just be in the kitchen and, and make stuff, so I’m always working in the kitchen and make a lot of pickles, dips and combination of spices.”
As one of the few Palestinian restaurants in Kansas City, Kamal and his family say they were intentional about celebrating their culture in every aspect. Customers can see that while looking at the pictures on the walls — family portraits interspersed with images of Palestinian celebrities — or through the Palestinian pantry staples like torshi and shatta available for purchase at the counter.
Kamal has been operating in the Kansas City food scene for decades. But he says running Baba’s Pantry with his family has allowed them to work towards a singular goal: making the best Palestinian food.
AJ Melba brought his cousin, Abdal Hakim Mubarak, to the restaurant for the first time Wednesday. The pair is originally from Palestine and based in California, but travels often.
Of all the Middle Eastern restaurants Melba has tried on his travels, he thinks Baba’s Pantry is the most authentic. He’s been back three times so far.
“When I bit into (the chicken shawarma pita), I was like, ‘Wow, this is authentic, authentic,’” Melba said. “I started talking to the owner and could really understand that he puts a lot of pride in his food. When you bite into it, it feels like you’re at home. There’s a lot of authenticity in the food, not just the decoration.”
Beyond the baklava, the restaurant is also known for its Knafeh, a dessert that’s only served on Fridays and draws a crowd. One of the most popular iterations of Knafeh originated in Nablus, Palestine, and is made with spun pastry, a syrup called attar, cheese and pistachios.
The one made by the Kamal family is based on the Nablus recipe and has a distinctive orange top.
“When you love somebody, you bring them Knafeh,” Kamal said. “We try to have it almost the same as if you send you back to Palestine, especially Nablus. Now people come in asking for Knafeh on a Friday – it makes us all feel happy.”
The family is happy to share the history and flavors of Palestine with each curious customer who walks through the door – and there are bound to be more thanks to Bon Appetit’s endorsement.
“We all love food,” Kamal said. “My kids love food and we like to give food as a gift to other people. That’s the reason I’m in the kitchen, trying all the time to show really the best Palestinian food and recipes.”