Jaffa, located smack-dab in the always booming El Jebel shopping center next to City Market, has quickly gone from hidden gem to locals’ weekly dinner spot. It’s no surprise why. With walls of Israeli marble and an interior inspired by the lush colors of the Mediterranean coast, stepping through the front doors of this Middle Eastern kitchen seemingly transports you across oceans and straight into the cafe’s ancient namesake. Jaffa, from which Tel Aviv has grown, is the world’s oldest and arguably most eclectic port town.
You’ll subconsciously surrender all five of your senses to a rollercoaster of experiences: the smell of fresh lamb sausage breakfast croissants; the sight of gorgeous, crispy pastries framed by shiny honey-drizzled berries; the savory drip of chicken shawarma juices from a rotating spit; warm “hellos” echoing from the generous owners during the ever-growing lunchtime rush; and that mouth-watering, once-in-a-blue-moon feeling of entering a truly special place full of spices hand-picked straight off the rocky Israeli coast. Jaffa is tucked into an unassuming spot between a liquor store and a pizza joint, but don’t be deceived. It’s unlike anything else offered in a valley that’s chock-full of pricier dining options. The valley’s foodies are raving about the care and quality they find in Jaffa’s meals, eaten in view of the restaurant’s centuries-old ceiling piece from a Moroccan casbah.
Owned and operated by Israeli expat Lior Lilah and business partners Alexei Rotaru and Doina Musteata, Jaffa offers a varied and joyful mix of cuisine. Ranging from the bright and zingy vegetarian tabbouleh—a salad starring parsley as the main ingredient mixed with bulgur, cucumber, and tomato dressed in olive oil and lemon juice—to the iconic Greek spanakopita baked with spinach and feta, the restaurant sheds a bright and warm light on the power of authentic cuisine.
Lilah, who moved to America looking for change nearly two decades ago, also spent time in Paris, but treasures and prioritizes the flavors of the Middle East. That love affair with the recipes of his homeland are what inspired the spontaneous business venture that has become Jaffa. One particularly delicious menu option starts with matbucha, made with drippings from grilled meats and fire-roasted vegetables sauteed in olive oil, garlic, and spices, that are stewed together on low heat for eight hours. The result is a savory sauce that defines the signature Jaffa Sandwich, with a breaded chicken breast placed and fire-roasted eggplant on a bed of tomatoes and cucumbers in a warm french baguette. It’s best paired with a side of hand-cut fries dusted with za’atar, a classic Middle Eastern spice mixture of dried herbs, sumac, and sesame seeds. If you find it difficult to choose just one item, sampler plates are great for those who want to taste it all.
In addition to the fresh mediterranean entrees (from traditional falafel pitas and gyros to flavorful soups, house-made hummus, and babaganoush) are the unmissable desserts and pastries baked from scratch each morning by head baker Zenon Flores.
Most notable from the array of sweets is Flores’ iconic and sought-after baklava, an ancient dish of flaky pastry layered with chopped, honey-soaked nuts. Also drawing customers back daily is the diverse selection of fresh cakes, fruit tarts, and custards, each glowing behind a glass counter like a beacon of sweet joy.
Simply put, you’ll find nothing like Jaffa elsewhere in the Roaring Fork Valley. With its thoughtful authenticity and loyal following, Jaffa is here to stay.
Flavors of the Middle East
- For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, Jaffa's website features a helpful mini-guide to its menu at JaffaKitchen.com.
- The restaurant serves both breakfast (8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.) and lunch/dinner (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.).
- The small selection of Middle Eastern grocery items at Jaffa are a fun bonus. Find them at the front counter.