May 10, 2023 - Food and Drink

Afghan refugees open Maryland restaurant

Afghan food at new Maryland restaurant My Kabul.

Traditional Afghan cooking at My Kabul Restaurant and Cafe. Photo: Courtesy of My Kabul

My Kabul Restaurant and Cafe just opened in Laurel, Maryland — and it’s owned and run by newly arrived Afghan refugees.

Why it matters: The all-day restaurant was founded to support and connect displaced Afghans.

The backdrop: Thousands of Afghan evacuees have resettled in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. — largely in Northern Virginia — since the Taliban took Kabul in 2021.

Zoom in: Restaurant co-founder Khalis Noori, an international development specialist who fled Kabul days after it fell, hit the ground running in Virginia helping fellow refugees. He quickly climbed the ranks within Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Alexandria and has spent the past 18 months helping resettle 1,400 Afghans.

  • Noori says My Kabul is a continuation of his aid work, which involved connecting refugees — many skilled but not fluent in English — with meaningful employment. “This place is a support for the community, and also a way for the people involved in the business to become self-sufficient,” Noori says.
  • The restaurant will offer 50% discounts to Afghan refugees and is also seeking donations to help cover costs.
Go for Afghan ice cream, stay for Kabul-style karaoke.
Go for Afghan ice cream, stay for Kabul-style karaoke.

What to expect: A 100-seat dining room with traditional Afghan dishes and entertainment (plus takeout and delivery).

🇦🇫 Quabuli palau - Seasoned rice with carrots, raisins, and marinated meat (usually lamb). The national dish of Afghanistan.

🍨 Sheer yakh - Rich, homemade Afghan ice cream that’s rare to find in the area, topped with pistachios.

🎤 Kabul-style karaoke - Noori programmed musicians such as Ahmad Zahir so guests can sing to Afghan music.

Zoom out: Afghan cuisine already has a strong place in the region — home to one of the largest U.S. populations of resettled Afghans.

  • Established local Afghan restaurateurs, such as the Popal Group (Lapis) and Masroor family (Aracosia) have been active in their efforts to employ new generations fleeing Afghanistan.

Yes, but: Afghan refugees nationwide are worried about planting roots and starting businesses when thousands are still on temporary “humanitarian parole,” which is set to expire this summer.

The bottom line: Noori, who employs paroled Afghans at My Kabul, says it’s not enough.

  • “People want to invest and be a part of their communities and work for the American dream we all talk about. But this is a big barrier. Afghans deserve permanent residency.”

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