Abdul Hatimi's Yasmeen Cafe is a crossroads of cultures in Kansas City's Historic Northeast
The halal eatery, opened in 2018, features African and Mediterranean fare, and is a favorite to locals in search of a warm, filing meal. Hatimi says he uses traditional cooking methods.
Kansas City’s East African dining options have really improved since Abdul Hatimi first moved here more than 20 years ago, in part due to the restaurant he opened in Kansas City's Historic Northeast.
Hatimi and his wife, Khadija, opened Yasmeen Cafe in 2018. The name means “beautiful flower,” and the cafe serves traditional African and Mediterranean fare including sambusas, mandazi and hot chai.
“We didn't have a lot of Somali restaurants. We had two or three — and the food was not bad, but was not 'up there,'" he says. "So after a while, I did a lot of work ... and finally decided, you know, let me bring the good food to this town.”
Five years later, and Hatimi's halal restaurant at the corner of The Paseo and Independence Avenue is a favorite to locals in search of a warm, filling meal.
"I just wanted to bring the real flavor, you know — the real home flavor," he says.
Chad Onianwa, a writer based in Kansas City, has been a regular there since 2019.
“I get the fish and rice. And then sometimes I'll get, like, the side of the spinach that comes with it," Onianwa says. "Or if I'm just stopping in then I'll just get some chai. I definitely think it's some of the best chai."
Somali cuisine is very diverse, Hatimi says, and a lot of East African food combines traditions and flavors from all around the world. That's partly because of the area's spice trade and strategic location.
Somalia, Kenya, and Tanzania have been stopovers in the spice trade for hundreds of years, and the Somali people traded spices, gold, cattle, myrrh, and frankincense with the ancient Egyptians, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Indians, Chinese and Romans.
“When people come together everybody brings their own food,” Hatimi says. “So in Kenya, like, if you go to the weddings, people eat biryani and pilau," just like at many Indian weddings.
Hatimi hails from Mogadishu, the Somali capital in the south.
"The Indian Ocean is right there next to us, so we have a lot of fish," he says.
Beyond that, “goat is like the favorite meat for Somalis and most of East Africans, then beef and other meats,” Hatimi says. “Rice is like the main food that goes with it, and then we also have spaghetti, which is another Somali common food because of the Italian colonization.”
He says he knew he wanted to open a restaurant in the Historic Northeast, which is home to many of Kansas City’s immigrant and refugee communities.
“A lot of Somalis, East Africans, Central Africans, a lot of Indian students, a lot of Vietnamese people,” Hatimi says, “so it worked really good for me.”
For Hatimi, making good food is straightforward. It requires fresh ingredients and care.
“Most of the things, I cook them traditionally," he says.
While working with a different partner in the Chicago area, Hatimi learned how to do things "the restaurant way," as he calls it.
"Because most other restaurants, they kind of pre-cook and keep it in the cooler," he says. "It's not very honest food. There's a lot of shortcuts that go in, so that you can produce whatever people ask for at any time."
At Yasmeen, though, “if my lamb shanks run out, I'm done for the day on lamb shanks. If the goat meat runs out, it's done for the day. And most of my customers know that," Hatimi says.
He notes the lamb shanks take about three or four hours to complete, and the goat takes about two to three hours.
“Whenever people come here ... it is my restaurant, but I feel like it's like my home,” Hatimi says.
And he hopes his family's restaurant will continue to be a familiar place for those looking for comfort in a divided world. After all, he says, food unites people.
“I want them, when they eat the food, they feel the happiness in that food," Hatimi says. "And most of the first time customers, now, are all my regular customers.”
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KCUR's Julie Denesha contributed to this report.