Dinkytown Afghan eatery to serve alcohol, plans changes

by Michael Krieger

In addition to kabobs, samosas and hummus, Dinkytown’s specialist in Middle Eastern cuisine will soon add merlot and chardonnay to its menu.

The Minneapolis City Council granted Da Afghan Express a liquor license last week, allowing the restaurant to begin selling wine and beer at its Fourth Street location.

The license approval is welcome news for the restaurant’s owners, who have been anticipating the City Council’s decision for more than six months.

Laila Lakanwal, who opened Da Afghan Express with her husband Ghafar in October 2000, said she was looking forward to the chance to better serve her customers.

“There were a lot of people who came in the evening that asked for beer,” Lakanwal said, noting that alcoholic beverages often enhance the distinct flavor of the restaurant’s Middle Eastern offerings.

“Our food is really tasty with wine,” she said.

Community members and area businesses were equally pleased with the addition.

“We’ve had real success with other restaurants who serve wine or beer,” said Skott Johnson, president of the Dinkytown Business Association.

“More and more people are looking to Dinkytown as an entertainment spot,” he said.

Marcy-Holmes community members also said they support the restaurant’s plan at a recent public hearing conducted by the city’s licensing department.

“There were no objections,” said Melissa Bean of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association.

Da Afghan Express is the only restaurant in Dinkytown that offers a complete Middle Eastern menu. The restaurant’s owner said the continuing war in Afghanistan has not affected business.

“We never got a bad reaction from our customers,” she said.

An Afghanistan native, Lakanwal fled her homeland 13 years ago because of the political environment. After escaping to Pakistan, Lakanwal was granted political asylum by the United States and joined her
husband, who had arrived in the Twin Cities a year earlier.

“All the people around here have been very supportive,” Lakanwal said.

Originally a schoolteacher, Lakanwal said she never anticipated owning a restaurant in the Twin Cities area. But when her brother decided to give up the Afghan restaurant he managed in Bloomington, Lakanwal stepped in.

“We wanted to keep it in the family,” she said.

The success of the Bloomington restaurant encouraged Lakanwal and her husband to open a similar establishment in Dinkytown.

She said she hopes to eventually change Da Afghan Express into a more traditional, sit-down-style restaurant with servers. She believes wine and beer sales will help complete this

Lakanwal said despite changes in the restaurant’s style, it will maintain its Middle Eastern character.

“We still follow my mother’s recipes,” she said.

Lakanwal, who is still deciding which alcoholic beverages the restaurant will serve, said she enjoys Dinkytown’s diversity and its proximity to the University.

“The students are very polite, nice people,” she said.

Michael Krieger welcomes comments at [email protected]