Café Fili, a popular restaurant situated in Baltimore’s historic Mt. Vernon neighborhood, is bringing a Mediterranean menu full of nicoise salads, Moroccan chicken paninis, and meze to the Union Station neighborhood this fall.
Restaurateur Ziad Maalouf says Café Fili is essentially a rebranded version of Café Olé, his restaurant that enjoyed a 20-year run in Tenleytown before closing in January of 2018.
Maalouf, who hails from Lebanon, opened Baltimore’s Café Fili in 2017. He says the restaurant has enjoyed success in part because he prioritizes good service, represents cuisine from all over the Mediterranean, and uses fresh ingredients to prepare it.
Examples include the grilled chicken Pomodoro panini, Moroccan cassoulet, and the Lebanese feta spread called shankleesh.
“We cover the whole Mediterranean basically, the ingredients and spices from that area with our own twist on it,” he says.
Maalouf expects to open D.C.’s first Café Fili by September on the ground floor of the Station House Apartments at Second and G Streets NE. That’s across the street from Kaiser Permanente Capitol Hill Medical Center, which Maalouf hopes will add a steady stream of customers.
Maalouf tells Eater the second location of the cafe is one of four new sites he’s planning to open within the next two years.
While there are eateries inside Union Station and plenty of standalone restaurants within walking distance from the 378-unit apartment building, there isn’t any competition on the same block as the Station House, which is why Maalouf picked the spot.
“It’s very underserved over there,” Maalouf says.
Interior construction began on the new 80-seat location last week. Maalouf says he’s in talks to add three more locations between D.C. and Alexandria, but he hasn’t finalized those plans yet.
Some long-running dishes at Café Olé made their way onto the menu Café Fili, like the French Riviera panini and a signature hummus and Greek salad. Maalouf structured the “urban casual restaurant” so it serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner like Café Olé did.
The 2,200 square-foot Café Fili in D.C. will serve all three meals from the same Baltimore menu, but with some new additions that are still in the works while Maalouf hires a chef.
Once it opens though, he’ll bring back several Café Olé favorites he can’t serve in the Baltimore café because it doesn’t have a full kitchen.
The returning dishes include lamb tagine — Moroccan lamb stew served over Israeli couscous with curry aioli — and the Lebanese celebration, which has bulgur wheat topped with chicken and stewed with lemon confit, then served with hummus and lemon pepper aioli.
Maalouf says about 20 longtime Café Olé customers have trekked out to Baltimore at least once or twice since the it closed in Tenleytown. In a few months, that long trip that won’t be necessary.
“We’re very excited to be able to bring back an old-time favorite of theirs and to the city, so they don’t have to drive all the way out to Baltimore,” Maalouf says.