According to Karim Taha of Jerusalem, “Mona” means hope. But that’s not the reason Taha’s restaurant got its name. Rather, Mona was the name of Taha’s first and most faithful customer, who helpfully sampled and critiqued all the menu items at his New Orleans restaurant. That establishment, opened eleven years ago, was likewise named for this prized patron. Taha brought Mona’s Café to Lafayette in 2004, making it a relative newcomer in a town where some restaurants have been handed down through several generations. And, as anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant will tell you, success in this business can depend on a lot of things. But if good food is decisive, then Mona’s Café has a hopeful future in Lafayette.
Take Taha’s falafel, a fried ball made from spiced chickpeas. Somehow, Taha manages to fry the ball to crunchy-crisp perfection while maintaining a moist and juicy interior. His eggplant and sesame paste dip, the baba ganuj, contains chunks of roasted eggplant with a nice balance of garlic. A fine complement to any appetizer or entrée is the café’s fresh salad, served with a special garlicky dressing not available in other restaurants in town. It’s the sort of thing that patrons later find themselves wishing they had at home to put on their own salads—so Taha will sell some to you if you ask.
In fact, Mona’s Café encourages its customers to bring home to their families the flavors and aromatic seasonings of the Mediterranean: about a fourth of the freshly renovated restaurant’s space is dedicated as a small market, selling many of the ingredients and spices found on their Middle Eastern menu. The wait staff is friendly and welcomes customer questions about the stock on their shelves and how to prepare various dishes. It’s the kind of helpful advice and guidance that was once given freely by an affable customer named Mona.
Mona’s is an alcohol-free restaurant, but customers can bring in their own beer or wine to accompany their meal.