2022 Tastemakers: Najmeddine Gabbar of Yemeni Restaurant

Having introduced Central Ohio to excellent Yemeni fare, chef Gabbar plans to open several branches of Michigan-based Qamaria Yemeni Coffee Co.

G.A. Benton
Najmeddine Gabbar, chef and owner of Yemeni Restaurant in Minerva Park

“Yemeni food is the most homey food there is. When you eat it, you feel like you’re home.” That’s how Najmeddine Gabbar, a Michigan transplant, describes the locally uncommon cuisine offered at Yemeni Restaurant, his casual establishment draped in colorful fabrics on the city’s North Side.

We only wish we had Gabbar’s lamb haneeth in our homes now. Ditto for Gabbar’s fahsa. Served with house-made khubz —puffy, crinkly and delightfully chewy naanlike bread about the size of a manhole cover—the standout fahsa is shredded, gently fragrant chicken or lamb, seamlessly blended with mashed potatoes and a zippy tomato broth that arrives gurgling dramatically in a volcanically hot stone bowl.

The Spice is Right

Fahsa and haneeth (which stars aromatic, fall-off-the-bone roasted meat) are rare finds around town. When Yemeni Restaurant premiered a few years ago, it was the only Yemeni eatery in the area. Still, even newcomers to Yemeni food should notice plenty that seems familiar in Gabbar’s soulful dishes.

While inarguably distinct, Yemen’s cuisine has been influenced by historical and geographical connections to India, Somalia and Saudi Arabia (which Yemen borders). Consequently, at Yemeni Restaurant, you’ll find hummus, rice-based (biryanilike) entrées and pop-ular dishes (lamb is prominent) enhanced by varying combinations of garlic, cumin, cardamom, tomato, mint and cilantro. The restaurant’s touch is generally harmonious with its seasonings, and chile heat is usually relegated to add-your-own, salsa-like sahawiq (aka zhug).

Generalizing about his offerings, Gabbar—who previously launched eateries in New York and Michigan and says he currently spends 90 percent of his time on Yemeni Restaurant—notes his dishes are extremely approachable. “You taste the food, not the spices. And no one who tries it is disappointed.”

Coffee Break

Gabbar’s Johnny Appleseed-like drive to disseminate the flavors of Yemen are kicking into another gear. He soon plans to open five Central Ohio branches of Michigan-based Qamaria Yemeni Coffee Co. Handpicked and unconventionally processed with their cherrylike husks, Yemeni coffee beans are prized for their complex, fruity character. Yemeni coffee and qishr—a tealike drink made with coffee husks—will be offered at Gabbar’s Qamaria shops along with housemade pastries and various other teas, coffees and espresso-based beverages.

Hummus topped with lamb at Yemeni Restaurant

Yemeni Restaurant

5426 Cleveland Ave., Minerva Park, 614-426-4000

About Najmeddine Gabbar

Age: 39

Hometown: “Dearborn, Michigan, but I was born in Yemen.”

For a big night out: Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse Downtown

What he cooks at home: Roasted salmon and broccoli with Yemeni spices

Guilty pleasure: Chocolate doughnuts from Buckeye Donuts

For fun he likes to: “Take rides in my boat and on my Jet Ski, mostly in Michigan”

Najmeddine Gabbar is one of nine “Tastemakers” profiles in the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.