New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Dua Kafe is the heart and soul of Albanian food in the East Village

Meet Bobian Demce, the man introducing Albanian food to the East Village.
Matt Petres
Dua Cafe owner Bobian Demce. (Matt Petres for WSN)

Growing up with Albanian roots from my dad’s side, I loved Balkan specialties like spinach byrek and savory phyllo dough pies, as they were staples in my household. Sunday services in my local Albanian Orthodox church accompanied these warm, homey dishes. Moving to New York, I was always on the hunt for Albanian restaurants. Nestled between Avenue A and Avenue B on 14th Street, owner Bobian Demce and his restaurant Dua Kafe have pioneered the familiar taste of Albanian food to Manhattan. 

The former tailor shop turned restaurant opened its doors in 2018 to customers in search of Albanian food. Demce, who immigrated to the United States from central Albania in 2001, was working part time as a bartender when he noted how prevalent Albanians are in the New York City food scene, yet so underrepresented when it comes to their own actual cuisine. Confident in the Mediterranean flavors of mountain herbs, olive oil and garlic which are marked in Albanian food, Demce set out to introduce a meaningful piece of his identity to the East Village in 2018. 

“Albanians in New York own a lot of the best restaurants in the city: steakhouses, Italian, Greek, French, you name it,” Demce said. “But they never had the courage to open a place for their own culture, our own food — and it’s very good. So that was the inspiration.” 

A black-and-white wall of celebrity photos with a red frame with two gold shoe-shaped charms at the center.
(Matt Petres for WSN)

Although the first few months were tough, when a food critic came to dine at Dua Kafe, unknowingly to Demce, traction grew stronger. Since then, Dua Kafe has been featured in major publications like The New York Times, CBS and Eater.

The exposed brick walls of the establishment are adorned with photographs — black-and-white portraits overlooking wooden tables and church pew benches often catch patrons’ attention. There’s also a gallery of illustrious Albanian figures initially as a tribute to Albanian heritage, this photo wall has evolved into a symbol of Dua Kafe’s cultural prominence.

“So the idea in the beginning, since nobody knew about Albania, was we have to come up with some idea — put the pictures that are our heroes,” Demce said. “On the left side, you have the classics, and then the heroes and Renaissance people who helped Albania get free from the Ottomans and Turks. And then the other one, we have a lot of young talents now that are internationally known.”

Now, many of those people on the wall have come into dine and left their autographs behind, in red marker against the black-and-white background — similar to the Albanian flag.

Demce explained how more and more non-Albanians are coming to dine, too; especially on Fridays, when there’s complimentary raki shots and dancing. For first-timers at Dua Kafe, I recommend ordering family style and sampling different plates to get a taste of everything.

As for my personal favorites — the strong and punchy raki pomegranate margarita, spinach byrek, the velvety richness of fergese, which is a creamier vegetable and cheese mixture, and the Instagrammable allure of kackavall — pan-fried cheese lit on fire — in front of you are non-negotiables. For those with a sweet tooth, the baked plum and ice cream dessert, or the heavenly baklava which features layers of phyllo dough adorned with a drizzle of honey, nuts and condensed milk, are a great end to the meal.

When my family came to visit me at school, my experience at Dua Kafe served as a poignant reminder of the distinctiveness and heartwarming essence of Albanian cuisine. It was a culinary homecoming that left a mark on my palate and an appreciation for Albanians like Demce who shine light on our heritage.

Contact Carina Christo at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Matt Petres
Matt Petres, Photo Editor
Matt Petres is a first-year studying Economics. He is from Chicago, Illinois and likes to bike and kayak. You can contact him on Instagram @matt.petres

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  • J

    JohnApr 12, 2024 at 6:01 pm

    Great article about a cozy little restaurant in the East Village! Delicious food, great ambience, engaging hospitality by owner, Bobian and tasty traditional Albanian dishes! A must visit!!!

  • A

    Artan telqiuApr 11, 2024 at 7:59 pm

    Wonderful human being that reflect his heart at the place he owns. Love Bobi and Dua Kafe! ❤️