Work isn’t just professional for Fatima Popal, it’s personal since she’s the CFO of Popal Restaurant Group, the boutique, family-run hospitality group founded by her parents Shamim and Zubair Popal. After fleeing their home country of Afghanistan over three three decades ago due to the Soviet invasion and decamping in Washington, D.C., the pair channeled their creativity into entrepreneurial endeavors. In 2003, they unveiled their first concept, Georgetown’s Cafe Bonaparte, a Parisian-inspired cafe that immediately charmed locals with its old-world design and imaginative crepes.
Today, Popal Restaurant Group manages an impressive portfolio including Lutèce, the highly lauded French bistro helmed by husband-wife Matt Conroy and Isabel Coss (a 2023 Food & Wine Best New Chef), beloved Afghan eatery Lapis, and soon-to-open elevated Mexican restaurant Pascual.
Because the company is led by Fatima’s immediate family (namely, her parents and one brother), her responsibilites extend beyond the normal CFO. She also oversees the HR department, all events, and corporate social rsponsiblity—a cause that is, in her words, “the key to my soul and my passion.”
As for what she loves about living in the nation’s capital, it’s being able to experience an abundance of diversity without having to venture far. “Because of all the embassies and global organizations, we have so many different cultures represented,” says Fatima. “It’s a reminder of my family’s journey here from Afghanistan.”
Here, she shares her favorite spots to eat, drink and explore in Washington, D.C.
What’s your favorite neighborhood?
Popal: Honestly, I have more than one. I love Georgetown because our family spent so much time there when we first moved. It reminded us so much of Europe, where we lived after leaving Afghanistan. Georgetown was also the inspiration for our first restaurant, Cafe Bonaparte, which is now Lutèce.
Also, I love Adams Morgan because it holds so many memories of being a young adult in D.C. and the early stages of our restaurant group. My brother Omar and I lived on the same street at one point with my older brother Mustafa living two streets down from us. It became the Popal kids corridor by Lapis.
What’s your favorite casual restaurant, and what’s your go-to order?
Popal: As a mom, I love 2Amys. They’re such a DC staple, and my kids love their cheese pizzas. I usually create my own pizza with a bunch of veggies since I don’t eat red meat, and then of course I eat whatever my kids don’t finish.
I am also a huge fan of tacos and Mexican Food—also why we’re opening a Mexican restaurant—and love popping by Taqueria Habanero for a quick bite. I usually order tacos with fish or shrimp.
And of course Lapis. Yes, it is one of our concepts but it’s the only way I can get my mom to make my family dinner every night since she’s our chef. My favorite dish at the moment is the chicken kabob with a qabuli palow.
Where do you go for a fancier meal, or to celebrate a special occasion?
Popal: Tail Up Goat has been one of my all time favorites, since I lived in Adams Morgan. I love their crispy salt cod fritters, but their whole menu is always delightful.
Rasika is also a favorite, since I gravitate towards the spices in Indian food. They’re a great restaurant to visit with a group since their dishes are made for sharing so you can get a taste of everything.
Do you have a favorite bar?
Popal: The Dabney is known for its food, but it also has a wonderful beverage program. I’m usually a Sauvignon Blanc girl, but their cocktails are incredible. I also love the cozy ambience of the restaurant with the open kitchen. Plus, Blagden Alley is such a fun spot to explore. There have been so many fun bars and restaurants popping up over there in the last few years.
What’s your favorite museum?
Popal: We can spend an entire day at the National Building Museum, since it caters to all three kids, plus my husband and me. We have so many popular and wonderful museums and galleries here in D.C., as well as hidden gems such as the Phillips Collection that many tourists don’t know about.