When the days turn cold, a brightly lit space with delicious food can make all the difference. YELLOW, a sunny Levantine cafe and restaurant in the heart of Georgetown, certainly fits the bill. There’s savory pastries, exceptional coffee, and — most recently — their signature (not) pizzas, all waiting to tempt you inside. (More on these pies shortly.)
Chef Michael Rafidi, famed for his Michelin-starred Albi and its hearth-burning plates, first opened YELLOW during the heart of the pandemic. Originally it was a pop-up café that operated from Albi’s dining room, but has now expanded into its first brick and mortar in the heart of Georgetown. The excitement doesn’t end there – they’ve just rolled out their evening menu, showcasing (not) pizzas alongside dishes that resonate with Rafidi’s Palestinian heritage … and nabbed a Bib Gourmand from Michelin in the process.
Here’s what else you need to know about Georgetown’s YELLOW (not) Pizza, including where this new D.C. staple plans to open up their flagship location.
1. First things first: What precisely is a (not) pizza?
If it’s (not) pizza, then what exactly does YELLOW serve? According to Ayat Elhag, who runs the café and directs the coffee program, the District already has its fair share of places that spin out beautiful cheesy pies, and YELLOW didn’t want to necessarily compete with that tradition. Instead, they leaned into something entirely different. “Everyone is gonna say that pizza has to fill X, Y, and Z characteristics for it to actually be pizza,” Elhag says. “It’s basically our snippy little comeback.”
Topping flatbread with sauces and ingredients is a recipe for success — and a universally delicious one too. In fact, certain regions in the Middle East traditionally serve an open face woodfired flatbread called manakeesh, which gets dressed with olive oil and za’atar. “It’s a really popular street snack to have for breakfast and snack on throughout the day,” she adds.
At YELLOW, you can order these pies starting at 4 p.m. To make the magic happen, chefs rely on a 700-degree wood fired oven that gives these (not) pizzas their smoky, charcoal-edged flavors. With a rotating menu of (not) pizzas, you’ll find everything from za’atar honey, smoked jibne dotted breads, and even their take on a sausage and pepper pizza with kefta, fire-roasted Jimmy Nardello peppers, and smoked eggplant puree. (Instead of dipping pita in tahini, imagine dunking your pizza in a creamy tahini-ranch spread.) Just remember, it may look an awful lot like pizza, but it’s (not) pizza.
2. They serve not just (not) pizzas, but other things, too.
Besides the rotating selection of (not) pizzas, definitely save room for a dazzling array of small plates and salads. For instance, YELLOW’s selection of smoked olives and shatta pickles with kolhrabi and long hots pairs perfectly with the wood-fired (not) pizzas. If you’re hungrier, you can easily turn to something heftier like spiced up falafel jibne or sfeeha lamb meat pie with a garlicky toum.
Those who enjoy side salads with (not) pizzas will be similarly thrilled by a little gem salad with tahini-ranch dressing, and refreshing sweet corn and fattoush, a zesty salad with apples, feta, and harissa dressing. Choose between small and large sizes so that your party gets a satisfactory dose of vegetables.
3. The drink game is strong, with everything from crafted coffee to cocktails.
Since the café’s beginnings, Elhag has been curating an extensive coffee program. Using Counter Culture beans, she and her team of baristas pay homage to the bustling coffee houses of the Middle East, and the region’s toasted spices, sweet honey flavors, and floral aromas. From halva lattes with tahini and brown sugar, and Turkish nitro spiked with cardamom and date molasses, Elhag has devised a cup of coffee that will bring joy to just about anyone. (For coffee-after-dinner fans, we highly endorse the decadent Turkish coffee affogato topped with a cardamom brownie and date molasses.)
Beyond coffee, there’s a whole drink section worth perusing. Alex Bookless, Albi’s bar director, helped design YELLOW’s thoughtful cocktail and natural wine list, which draws on influences from the Middle East and the world’s historic wine regions. Starting at 4 p.m., you can enjoy wines from all over the globe and cool spins on classic cocktails such as the sumac and pomegranate molasses gin and tonic.
4. We haven’t even talked about daytime yet.
Good news for early birds. Open at 8 a.m., YELLOW also functions as an all-day cafe. Once the doors swing open, you’ll find customers snacking on pastries that combine blissful Levantine flavors with classic French techniques. YELLOW Pastry Chef Alicia Wang has crafted a delightfully savory za’atar and labne croissant, a chocolate seven-spice cruffin, and a flaky lemon sumac kouign amann that’s available until they sell out, as they often do. Besides pastries, YELLOW’s famed pita sandwiches are a popular choice for office workers and casual midday diners. (Just don’t plan on working here. There’s no wifi.)
By 4 p.m., the space completely transforms into a candle-lit dining room, perfect for a romantic date or a celebratory meal. The (not) pizzas appear. While the indoor space primarily serves dine-in customers at night, there’s also the option for carryout on the patio.
5. This isn’t actually the main YELLOW (or at least, it won’t be for long).
If you can believe it, YELLOW (not) pizza has been in the making for three years. After Albi opened in February 2020, the team immediately began brainstorming the launch of YELLOW from within Albi’s dining room. (YELLOW Albi is open primarily on the weekends and does not serve (not) pizzas.)
So, currently, there are two YELLOW locations – this one in Georgetown and the other within Albi’s dining room. Technically YELLOW Georgetown was their first real brick and mortar, originally opened as a café in late 2022, and is intended to be the permanent home for (not) pizza. Much of the restaurant’s design has been led by local artists and designers, including Natalie Park who designed the restaurant’s interior, and Bicyclette, who crafted the handmade tables.
But the team already has a third location in the works. Set to open in 2024, YELLOW HQ, the café’s flagship space, will be located in D.C.’s Union Market.