Alfalfa Restaurant is one of the most eclectic places in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, thanks to its vegan and vegetarian options, locally grown food and performing arts — providing a space for hipsters and suit wearers alike.
Alfalfa has been a more liberal, vegan/vegetarian friendly space since its inception in 1973 when it sat across the street from the University of Kentucky.
Tiffany and Wali El-Amin became the new owners of Alfalfa in 2020 in the restaurant’s 47th year. Opening up in the middle of a pandemic brings the potential for challenges, but the El-Amins remain hopeful the love of good food will keep their business buzzing.
The friendly space with brick interior brings an artistic and cozy vibe. Just about everything in the restaurant, including art and the gift shop, is locally sourced. Most of the produce is from Black Kentucky farmers.
The El-Amins say the goal of the restaurant is to serve healthy, culturally diverse plates.
“We’re using as fresh and local as we can. We’re using as [few] ingredients as we can,” said Tiffany El-Amin.
One reason the new owners are committed to providing healthier food options has to do with Tiffany El-Amin’s upbringing, in particular her agricultural roots. She grew up on a farm in Madison County, Kentucky, just south of Lexington.
“My whole childhood was straight farm food. With Alfalfa’s I’m trying to re-educate us on how we like to eat. When you really think about all the by-products and all the crap that goes into fast food, it’s the same crap we were being fed as slaves,” said Tiffany El-Amin.
Though the ownership hands have changed, a few classic dishes, such as the Hopping John, remain the same. The El-Amins also have expanded the menu to include more soul food plates. The restaurant aims to offer something for most, regardless of a patron’s dietary restrictions.
The art culture is big at Alfalfa, as it is right next door to the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. The restaurant hosts several live performances monthly. Part of its history includes the 1920’s “Amos n Andy Show” taking place near the very spot where Alfalfa is located today. The show was based on the model of minstrel shows, which, in the past, reportedly were popular in Kentucky.
Currently, there are no other Black-owned restaurants in the same part of downtown Lexington as Alfalfa. The El-Amins are proud to be a part of modern-day history.
“Being Black-owned does weigh heavy, and we just try to not show how heavy that is,” said Tiffany El-Amin. While it may not be easy being a Black business owner, the Amins want others to know they, too, can take on entrepreneurship. “We want people to know this is something we all can do.”
Alfalfa doesn’t have a ‘typical’ customer, according to Tiffany El-Amin, but a brief profile would include those who love vegan, love everything local, love Black-owned businesses and love diversity and culture.
“We have all types of people here. It’s a space where everybody feels the same,” she said.