Mama Ayesha’s is a Palestinian/Lebanese restaurant located at 1967 Calvert Street NW. Ayesha, for whom the restaurant is named, grew up on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in the 1800s when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire, making her Palestinian in today’s terminology. She founded Mama Ayesha’s in 1960 and it has remained a beloved institution to this day. Since the countries that comprise the Levant today (Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan) were once once considered part of Greater Syria under the Ottoman’s they all have very similar cuisines, with regional specialties of course. Lebanon came to be known as the region’s culinary center such that top restaurants in Amman, for instance, will often market themselves as Lebanese. Pedantic distinctions about cuisine aside, Mama Ayesha’s is truly excellent. While it makes me cringe to pay American prices for what I would eat for a few dollars in Amman, they do excellent and authentic renditions of some of the best mezze classics, including hummus, fuul and falafel. Service is very friendly and the decor is beautiful, if a bit over the top. They also serve a very satisfying kunafeh, which is very difficult to find done properly in the U.S. Kunafeh, at least the Palestinian version which was invented in Nablus, is a sweet, rich dessert consisting of cheese topped with shredded wheat and sugary syrup.
It may sound gross, and it can be if it isn’t done right. When done right it’s divine and Mama Ayesha’s does a solid version.