Here's the next edition of the Petworth News Restaurant Spotlight.
Don’t let the name fool you: Cabana Grill, the tiny restaurant that opened in November next to Yes Organic Market on Georgia Ave, isn’t selling Caribbean food.
This pint-sized eatery, located at 4128 Georgia Ave NW, would be easy to miss if not for its bright yellow exterior, and is serving up Petworth’s best BBQ. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this is some of the best BBQ in the city.
Like many of you, I’ve passed by Cabana Grill on my way to get groceries, or on the way back from the bus stop. I didn’t pay much attention to it until a few weeks ago, when I typed its name into Google on a whim.
The results took me by surprise: 9 reviews, all 5 stars.
“Food was amazing. Service was great.”
“Great local spot!! Brisket was perfect!”
“GREATEST FOOOD EVERRR”
“delicious food!! out this world!!“
Those reviews alone were enough to warrant a takeout order. To ensure a full and fair audit of the offerings (OK, because I couldn't make up my mind about what to get), I ordered the $31.99 combo platter. The platter was huge - more than my husband and I could eat in one sitting – and the brisket and beef short rib were so tender that we barely used our knives. The coleslaw side also stood out – crunchy and well seasoned, without being too loaded with mayo.
Co-owner Faisal Ahmed says the key to his BBQ is that he doesn’t over-season it; a little salt and pepper go a long way on a good cut of meat that’s properly prepared, he says. Ahmed is also firmly in the “no sauce” BBQ camp: well-prepared meat should be able to stand on its own. Indeed, Cabana Grill’s generous portions come with only a thimble-sized container of sauce.
Another unique quality of Cabana Grill: the absence of pork on the menu, and instead the presence of lamb. Those tweaks are an homage to Ahmed’s background - he grew up in Sudan, where lamb is the most common meat, more prevalent than beef or chicken. Ahmed’s roots also explain the absence of pork: in keeping with Islam, pork is not served, and in fact Cabana Grill is fully halal.
Ahmed said that at first the absence of pork in a BBQ joint was a “big no no for a lot of people” but that slowly, customers are coming around to the idea.
“The neighborhood has been very welcoming and very accepting," explains Ahmed. "People are willing to try it. And the lamb is a Middle Eastern touch."
Ahmed has lived in Petworth for the last seven years. In fact, he lives in the apartment right above Cabana Grill. He said he used to frequent Epiphany, the BBQ restaurant that closed here in 2015, and even worked there for a while. When Epiphany closed, he asked the owners to teach him their BBQ technique, and augmented that with his own BBQ skills and the recipes he learned in his home country.
Cabana Grill has been open for two months, and while business was slow over the holidays Ahmed says it’s picking up. He said he has some regular customers already, and the long hours – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday – provide needed options for a neighborhood where lunch spots are still scarce.
One of Ahmed’s new regulars, Aurore Levy, nodded along to our conversation as she waited for her takeout BBQ chicken wings. Levy is a French student studying English in DC, and has picked up dinner from Cabana Grill three times on her way back from class.
“It’s great,” she says of the food. “They’re very friendly and very quick to send the food.”
This is Ahmed’s first restaurant venture, and he recognizes the risks.
“It’s a big decision and involves a lot of work and time,” he said. “It’s a 50/50 chance when you open something.”
But Ahmed hopes the quality of the food and the unique menu offerings will make Cabana Grill a neighborhood mainstay. Stop by and you be the judge!
4128 Georgia Ave NW
Mon - Sat: 11am - 11pm