Ali Amin grew up learning the food industry from his father, an Afghanistan immigrant, and working in his businesses—he helped his dad open Laili in downtown Santa Cruz 12 years ago. They jumped at the opportunity to create an exciting concept and move into fine dining. Now co-owner and general manager, Amin says the cuisine is Mediterranean-Middle Eastern fusion with a foundation of Afghan influences and flavors. The Kadoo Borane—braised butternut squash with housemade lemon garlic yogurt and naan—is a signature Afghan appetizer. Entrée highlights include apricot chicken flatbread with dates, parmesan, mint and pomegranate and the filet mignon kabob with garlic-lime sauce and traditional Kabuli rice. The can’t-miss dessert is the flourless chocolate torte, accompanied by sabayon cream and raspberry puree. The ambiance is warm and inviting, accentuated by high ceilings and earth-tone colors—the crown jewel is the outdoor patio.
Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 4-8pm (8:30pm Fridays and Saturdays). GT asked Amin about their stellar outdoor space and his approach to hospitality.
What makes your garden patio unique?
ALI AMIN: It is one thing that makes our restaurant so special. There have been a lot of special moments and occasions out there, like weddings and other events. It’s a magical and unique space; when people go out there, it’s like they are transported to a different place. We have heaters and lights strung all around, and the walls are covered in vines and other assorted greenery. It’s really an experience to dine out there.
Why is service important to you?
Afghanistan is known for their hospitality. It is one of the culture’s core values. I experienced it first-hand when I went there, the incredible warmth and generosity, even in the midst of such chaotic and harsh times. We are doing our best to bring that hospitality here to Laili, and let people experience that sense of connection and have that feeling of being taken care of. We are here to make an impact on the community through this hospitality. It’s what drives us every day to do what we do.
Laili, 101 B. Cooper St., Santa Cruz, 831-423-4545; lailirestaurant.com.