Its hard to find Laili unless you know where to look. The front door is angled away from foot traffic and the enclosed garden patio can only be spotted from a helicopter; a walk from Pacific to Front Street leaves many passerby none the wiser.
But after sunset the glow from the dining room reaches Cooper Street, and the open kitchen and marbled bar top give way to the overgrown greenery and white tablecloths of fine dining in the heart of Santa Cruz. Laili is the art of blending fine organic products with traditional Afghan recipes, where the bustle of downtown life meets romantic Mediterranean elegance.
Our cuisine is a balance of ancient Silk Road flavors, including kabob style entrees and wraps, afghani dumplings, and spiced lamb and chicken dishes. We feature a vegetarian and vegan friendly menu made up of fresh local ingredients, and our desserts incorporate authentic herbs and spices from around the world. A range of wines have been selected to complement our unique range of flavors, and we offer local and artisan beers both on tap and by the bottle.
The history of Laili began over one thousand years ago with the Middle Eastern tragedy “Layla and Majnun,” an epic romance of star-crossed lovers immortalized by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. Kept away from her lover by fate and the bonds of marriage, the character of Layla became a symbol for love and beauty throughout central Asia. Their unfulfilled passion inspired much of the region’s poetry, music and culture.
Laili is our expression of this love story.
In 1975 Wafi Amin came to the U.S to study and to see the world. Four years later the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan, and Amin eventually decided to build a life away from his native country. In 2010 he came to Santa Cruz with a vision to create a modern dining oasis in the heart of downtown. An entrepreneur with a knack for culinary creativity and nostalgia for the dishes of his own culture, he conceived of Laili as a gathering place evocative of all the warmth of his native Afghanistan. The way he lives his life has been shaped by a passion for food, traditions, and community, incorporating the farm-to-table movement through the recipes close to his heart.
Come enjoy an atmosphere rich in taste and character, where the past meets the present, deep-rooted traditions meet modern customs and passion is realized through dedication to food, service and ambiance.