On busy weekends, it’s common to see 30-inch diameter stainless steel platters, heaving with spiced rice and meats, carried out of the Hadramout Restaurant’s doors by two or more people on their way to a family feast. This restaurant group serves the equivalent of 200 whole lambs per week, each carefully selected at auction by the owners and processed at a halal-certified shop before being transferred to a kitchen for butchering and prep. It’s an efficient, hands-on operation that’s allowed Hadramout to expand quickly to Texas’s biggest metros in just three short years, starting in Houston and expanding to Plano, Irving, and Austin. Then you taste the mandi, the famous spiced roasted lamb or chicken served that’s so tender that the bones come off clean from the meat, and it becomes clear why legions of Texans are so enamored with this growing Yemeni restaurant group.
Hadramout is owned by and gets its name from a group of Hadramhi families with ties to the Hadramout region in south Yemen, facing the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. “Not a lot of people know [where Hadramout is],” co-owner Muaadh Baafif says. “But ... all the people know that this is Yemeni food.”
The restaurant’s origins are scrappy, and the timing of Hadramout’s emergence makes sense. Muaadh, his brother Yaser, and fellow owners collectively developed the restaurants after struggling to find work post-graduation in their respective fields. At the same time, Texas’s Arab American population is growing. While the U.S. Census notoriously doesn’t count “Arab” as a separate ancestry from “white” on its national survey, the Arab American Institute estimated in 2019 that Texas was home to the fourth largest Arab American population in the country. And 2017 data demonstrated that Tarrant and Dallas counties had the second and third highest Arab American populations in Texas behind Harris County.
Pooling their resources, the partners opened their first location at South Gessner Road in Houston’s Westchase neighborhood in March 2020. Anchored in their identities and cooking experiences from back home, helping out in family weddings where they catered for up to 1,000 guests, and in the States working in restaurants to cover their living expenses, the families’ shared vision of building a Yemeni restaurant chain and bringing the cuisine to American diners took shape.
“The brand became really popular in Houston, and even in Dallas,” Yaser Baafif says. “People were coming to Houston, our first location, begging us to open one in Dallas. So once we had the brand name [out], then it was much easier to convince investors...to join our efforts.“
By 2022, the group sprouted a Plano location and followed it up with restaurants in Irving and Austin in July 2023. Plans for opening the San Antonio location are now underway.
The interiors at each feel like a slice of Yemen in Texas; photos of the rugged Yemeni landscape, the endemic Socotra dragon tree, and woven rugs line the walls. There is dedicated space for a majlis, a traditional seating arrangement where diners sit on a carpeted floor with cushions to lean back on surrounding a low table with platters of food.
Hadramout’s owners also ensure that the menu faithfully reflects the flavors and promotes the same style of hospitality as their home country. “We send [our] chefs to Yemen, on our expense,” says Yaser. Due to the country’s ongoing civil war, the visit requires a week’s worth of travel, flying through Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan to get a local flight or a three-day bus ride into Yemen. Once there, the chefs cook “the same food that you eat [in our restaurants],” which are family recipes, Yaser says. These meals are then served to the surrounding community, allowing Hadramout’s team to “give back” to the people of Yemen.
Hadramout’s customers hail not only from Yemen but from all over West and South Asia; they comprise people raised in Arab American households and those who’ve spent time in the region. Favorites across the Arabian Peninsula, such as hummus, baba ghanoush, fattoush salad, and tabbouleh, are served alongside regional dishes. The bestselling item, hanith, uses a hawaij (a spice blend that creates a burnt sienna crust on the meat) from the coastal plains of Tihamah that line the Red Sea. The zurbian and pompano fish are from the port city of Aden in the south. Mugalgal (dry braised spiced lamb strips), ogda (chicken or bone-in lamb braised in an onion and bell pepper sauce), fahsa (bone-in lamb stewed in a spiced onion tomato gravy, served in a hot stone bowl), and hearty desserts including masoob (layers of chopped flatbread, ripe bananas, cream, and honey) and areeka (pieces of flatbread mixed with dried dates, cream and honey) are from the northern borders of Yemen. The Saudi national dish, kabsa, is also on the menu, a nod to Yemen’s connection to its northern neighbor.
Everyone in the community is always invited to celebrate in Yemen, so large-scale catering capabilities are baked into the operations — from butchering, cooking, and serving whole or half animals to single-serving dishes. During the Thanksgiving and Ramadan seasons, orders pour in by the hundreds. “We are ready anytime,” Muaadh says with a grin.
The need to address hunger on all levels circles back from their home country and into the local community, from free-of-charge catering to mosques during Ramadan to giving out excess food to unhoused people on the streets and free meals to whoever walks into the restaurant hungry and cannot pay. The team “share values [of] any culture, any belief, any human being in this world ... supporting others who are less fortunate,” Yaser says. “Why give back? It will be a shame [for] us if we don’t do that.”
Muaddh adds: “Because it is our tradition to invite everybody.”