Located a couple blocks west of Clark Park, Mood Cafe is small but mighty. Once inside, owners Shanze Faisal and Hasan Bukhari can be heard giving customers detailed recommendations or describing the many unique dishes that the restaurant offers. Bukhari says that, over the years, the menu has changed constantly, due to repeat customers' unorthodox requests. But these experiences have helped shape their creative outlook, and many of their menu items can now only be found at their restaurant.
Faisal recently joined the Mood Cafe team, and led the effort to create a new menu, keeping several fan–favorites while also bringing in new twists on familiar dishes. She says that the restaurant has a renewed focus on making healthy and delicious food accessible to their customers.
In just around an hour at the restaurant, several customers come in to order lassi, a thick drink made with yogurt. From mango to almond pistachio, Mood Cafe boasts an extensive list of twists on the classic South Asian beverage. They even offer a vegan version of the drink, which Hasan says was a request by a customer many years ago.
The rose cardamom lassi is one of Mood Cafe’s unique takes on the refreshment. The cardamom provides a subtle flavor that adds depth to the drink, while not overpowering its characteristic sweetness. Despite its milkshake–like appearance, it has the light and refreshing texture of a smoothie, becoming the perfect vehicle for the slightly fruity and minty flavor. The lassi is the ideal accompaniment to any meal at Mood Cafe, and the richness of the yogurt balances out the spices in the other dishes.
With new main courses being offered at the restaurant, Faisal wants to challenge people’s ideas of what “healthy food” looks like. “There is such a stigma [around] ethnic cooking—that it can't be healthy. Or that a bowl of Caesar salad would be healthier than this bowl of chaat,” she says. Many of Mood’s new menu items focus on healthy plant–based sources of protein like chickpeas and tofu that still provide a delicious and nourishing meal. Turmeric and fenugreek, spices with numerous health benefits, are also key ingredients in many of their dishes.
Despite being plant–based, the tofu turmeric wrap doesn’t sacrifice any of its flavor profile. When asked what seasonings are in the tofu, Faisal responds with simply “everything.” The tofu scramble has a delightful crumbly texture, with the flavor of the turmeric, paprika, and all the other spices coming through with each bite. The naan is served warm with a creamy sauce and lettuce, tomatoes, and green onions that provide a nice contrast to the hearty tofu.
Mood Cafe is also well known for their chaat, a comfort dish found in many South Asian homes. The chicken tikka chaat is a contemporary twist on the traditional dish, pairing warm chicken with a variety of vegetables and toppings, creating a symphony of flavors and textures. The tender chicken brings a hint of spice to the dish, and pairs well with the sweet stewed chickpeas and cold potatoes. Crispy pieces made of chickpea flour add a welcome crunch into every bite.
Faisal and Bukhari clearly care about their customers, taking time to answer any questions about the dishes and asking incoming customers how their days are going. “We say the word ‘vibey’ a lot,” Faisal says. “But that's really what it's about. We just want a place where people feel comfortable.” This is evident from the moment you step into the restaurant, with the warm aroma and intimate setup creating a comforting atmosphere. Their signature “vibey dates” are also a perfect representation of this ethos: a new experience that is also deeply inviting. The medjool dates with ginger, cinnamon, peanut butter, and dark chocolate have quickly become a fan favorite.
Faisal and Bukhari are excited for the warmer months, where they will be able to offer outdoor seating and host more events for the community. Only a 20 minute walk from campus, Mood Cafe is definitely worth the trek.
TL;DR: Inventive and unconventional takes on Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes just a walk into West Philly away.
Location: 4618 Baltimore Ave
Hours: Closed on Mondays, 12 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays