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Layalina, Syrian and Lebanese in North Arlington - Chef Rima Kodsi on Wilson Blvd. and N. Florida St.


Sam
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I haven't seen much about this restaurant other than occassional mention in the Wed. chat, but a friend and I went there last night for dinner. In comparison to Lebanese Taverna, I must say this is much better. Note: we split 5 mezzas and they were all vegetarian as my friend doesn't eat meat.

We stuck with your basics standards but thought they were well executed. Had a pomegranate hommass-your basic hommos with with pom. juice on top. (we actually ordered a 2nd one later since we liked it so much). It was well made, very smooth and creamy, not too garlicky, but the juice just added a nice sweet/tart note that is a bit unexpected (but in a good way)

Had the moussaka-eggplant, onion, tomatoes, chickpeas. We both enjoyed it, but definitely had other favorites of the night. It was cold which we weren't expecting, and came as a bit of a shock since we were expecting something else. It was a good melding of flavors in more of a vegetable stew kind of dish, rather than a layered casserole that I think of when I think moussaka.

Middle Eastern cheese-2 1/2" thick, maybe 6" long slice of cheese, said to be served warm, we found ours to be at best lukewarm. Probably the least liked of the bunch. One was covered in black sesame seeds, the other in zaatar. I just found it didn't have a whole lot of flavor.

Spinach Fatayer-a good rendition, nothing mind-blowing, not too inventive, just a good spinach pocket. Very generous on the filling, which I have found can be stingy at some places.

Last, vegetarian kibbeh-I think this was my favorite of the night. Triangle shaped filled wheat shells with walnuts, peppers, and pom. sauce, then deep fried. The outside had a wonderful crispness to it without being greasy at all. The inside was so hot I burned my mouth a bit, but is was a wonderful oozy gooiness. Not to oozy to spill everywhere, but enough to feel a wonderful texture contrast in your mouth.

That's it, sorry to be so long, hope I didn't bore you! Our bill was $42 (6 mezzas and one iced tea), not including tip. The interior was very nice-the usual Middle Eastern decorations, but tastefully done. It was not crowded at all when we were there, but I could see this being a nice place to bring a date on a weekend. Very large selection of vegetarian choices-I would say over half of the menu actually.

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Unearthing this thread because Layalina has long been one of my favorite "secret finds" in North Arlington. My fiance, his mother, and I had mezze for about $50 (no drinks) before we went to the theater last night. I have introduced any number of ex-boyfriends and friends to the place, which is far better than Lebanese Taverna, never as crowded, and far more reasonably priced.

One thing I will say for Lebanese Taverna: they know how to do the bread. But it doesn't justify the inflation of their prices or the ridiculous waits or their unwillingness to take reservations for the entire restaurant. Layalina's atmosphere is so much more laid back, the people always recognize you, and the food is simply wonderful. I truly cannot say enough good things about the restaurant. Go here! It does tend to get crowded on Friday and Saturday nights but, otherwise, it's seems to be pretty quiet.

(Maybe they do a respectible lunch business?)

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(Maybe they do a respectible lunch business?)

They don't, actually. But they should.

My boss took me to Layalina for a celebration recently, and I thoroughly enjoyed. To my dismay, we were a second table in an otherwise empty dining room. Why is that happening when the nearby Potbelly and lord knows what other class of establishment are jammed with khaki-clad crowds, is a mystery I will never comprehend.

The trouble with dissecting the food you were raised on is that it never really feels like dining out. It feels like home. Like eating in your friend's mama's kitchen, where you expect no Michelin-style perfection but a heart-warming meal, not crisply elegant service but plenty of good cheer. That type of food, you simply can't critique. So I will just say that it felt like home to me.

The dining room looks just a hair width away from the Middle Eastern theme park, with every class of gong and trinket occupying every bit of wall and corner space. What would look garish elsewhere feels endearing here because see above, you don't expect perfection.

Layalina is obsessed with pomegranate seeds and juice and ladles it on everything on the menu, from which it mostly benefits. The food, let's see, roast eggplant with walnut and parsley and pomegranate extract was divine, packing all the requisite smokiness and richness of eggplant flesh accented with pomegranate tartness and crunchiness of nuts, check. Stuffed grape leaves, a classic and never wavering, check. Kafta bil jawz, they say it's an ancient Syrian recipe, but really who can tell who got there first, we are still steaming over Azeris stealing out dolma primacy, anyway, check, kafta was delicious, a touch dry but flavorful grilled chunks of mincemeat, if there were walnuts and bulghur in the mix, they must have been ground into submission. It came with a generous side of tomato slices, onion rounds and greens, and no one at home ever worried you need to go to your next meeting with onion breath, and what kind of sissy are you anyway to be concerned with these things, and the salad that could have been very generic was made special by a sprinkling of tart, sour red ground spice I couldn't place at first.

"Sumak," said an elderly gentleman who kept a languid eye over the dining room. You know the type, heavy-lidded, unhurried, commonly found in abundance on porches and courtyards of Levant or Maghreb, playing sheshbesh, sipping tea, dispensing life wisdom. "It's called sumak. Would you like a bit?" He strolled in and out of the kitchen and handed me a small container full of reddish powder. "Try it. If you like it, Halalco has it." Just like your friend's mom will hand you her dog-eared recipe.

I hope they do a brisk business for dinner because I would love them to stay in business. I don't feel like home very often.

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We were looking for a new place in the Courthouse area to go for dinner last night. I remember driving past this place a couple of weeks ago on an errand and figured it would be worth a try. I should have figured that someone would have posted about it here, but I had spelled it incorrectly and did not find the thread until now. All that said, we had a good Sunday dinner that started with a couple of mazza and entrees. We had the following Hommos M'Damas, Mousakaa, Shish Tawook, and Kafta Bil Jawz and all were delicious and full of flavor. The hommos was different (at least to me, in that it was not pureed) and refreshing and I really enjoyed my Kafta, although it was a bit dry as noted above. The garlic sauce served with the shish tawook was great went very well with the cubes of chicken. My only complaint is the lame pita that they serve.

On top of everything this is a family owned place which is great to see and support. Entree prices keep this out of range for a $20-Tuesday, but it would make for a decent casual week night dinner.

Restaurant info here.

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This restaurant gets little attention, but thought it should be brought back up. Just returned from a really nice meal there. It was as comfortable as ever, I had the friendliest service I have received in Arlington in as long as I can recall, and it didn't break the bank. This is a great "off the beaten path" restaurant that deserves far more attention then it gets.

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This is my birthday restaurant, and I just enjoyed another one. Friendliest service you're likely to encounter, and the food is first rate.

I had a few mezze with my partner, the highlight of which was a large (and cold) artichoke with a dipping oil filled with spices and herbs. Leaf by leaf, it was very nice. Girlfriend and I also split a baba ghanouj and lubei bil zet (okra in tomato sauce). The tastebuds were all atingle.

For my main course, I ordered kibbee nayee (duh!) and it was superb. Fresh, meaty, soothing....it was accompanied by iced onion leaves and an onion paste, plenty of fresh mint and lots of good pita. I could have easily downed two or three portions, and then ordered another one to roll around in on the floor.

Girlfriend had the stuffed eggplant with beef, which was delicious but seemed to be more of a cooler weather dish. Nonetheless, not a single bite was unenjoyable.

We (mostly me) finished with a nice glass of cloudy arak, followed by a Turkish coffee, and we left satisfied and happy.

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This little gem will reward you greatly ... if you can find it. Located in a non-descript strip mall in Arlington, but worth the search . Have had the typical and most popular Lebanese dishes and look forward to expanding my choices. No misfires here yet. Bread a good as Lebanese Taverna, excellent sauces and a respectable Turkish (Lebanese coffee

) Relatively inexpensive fo portion size and very hospitable staff make for a pleasant evening.

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It's worth keeping in mind that this restaurant actually has a few distinctions from all the other Middle Eastern restaurants around town. First of all, it unabashedly announces that it serves Syrian food, along with Lebanese food. That's an important distinction -- Lebanese food is generally Levantine cuisine with a French influence. Syria was smack dab on the spice caravan routes from the Orient to Europe. Some of the vegetarian appetizers, like the (count them!) 7 hummus dishes, and the roasted eggplant salad, are very Syrian. Oh yeah, and if you call ahead for Rima's Chicken Special (whole stuffed chicken dinner that serves two, or just me), you'll be eating Syrian love on a platter.

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After a long morning of hiking and chasing turkeys in Maryland (long story), I stumbled into Layalina this afternoon for a belated take out lunch. It’s been almost two years since my last venture here.

I had forgotten how welcoming the restaurant appears, both in décor and demeanor. While awaiting my order, I sat at the bar with a cup of coffee and talked with the owner (and husband of Chef Rima), Sam. Learning his story of how a commercial pilot became a banquet manager who became a restaurant owner inspired me on multiple levels.

When I arrived home, Bamieh Lamb Shank, rich with okra and tomato, and hummus with pistachios and cilantro disappeared as quickly as my hunger. Wholesome, satisfying, and hearty--an antidote for the Narnia-winter skies (the one in Michigan, not of Tumnus.)

For anyone sans Turkey Day plans, take note: Sam mentioned that Layalina will be open tomorrow with full menu service available.

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After a long morning of hiking and chasing turkeys in Maryland (long story), I stumbled into Layalina this afternoon for a belated take out lunch. It’s been almost two years since my last venture here.

I had forgotten how welcoming the restaurant appears, both in décor and demeanor. While awaiting my order, I sat at the bar with a cup of coffee and talked with the owner (and husband of Chef Rima), Sam. Learning his story of how a commercial pilot became a banquet manager who became a restaurant owner inspired me on multiple levels.

When I arrived home, Bamieh Lamb Shank, rich with okra and tomato, and hummus with pistachios and cilantro disappeared as quickly as my hunger. Wholesome, satisfying, and hearty--an antidote for the Narnia-winter skies (the one in Michigan, not of Tumnus.)

For anyone sans Turkey Day plans, take note: Sam mentioned that Layalina will be open tomorrow with full menu service available.

Reminds me of Thanksgivings past. My parents both passed away this year. Growing up, my Syrian mom had a Thanksgiving feast with a turkey as the centerpiece, but with all Syrian sides, including the most to-die-for rice and lamb and pine nut stuffing imaginable. When I would bring an occasional friend to Thanksgiving at our home, the raves would follow for months. Desert was her home made baklava....thanks for the very sweet memories.
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Heading for North Arlington to run errands yesterday and looking to try something new for lunch, we settled on Layalina, based mainly on Don's placing it at the top of his list for that area in the Dining Guide.

OK, it was raining, but we were the only diners in the place the entire time we were there. Service was gracious and welcoming. The decor was charming, and helped us feel like we were being swept far away from Northern Virginia.

To our extreme regret, we weren't very hungry, and WW was going for a run with the dog later, so we decided to share only three small plates: artichoke salad, the daily special of roasted cauliflower, and the soujuk. Wow!!! We practically licked our plates! It was our first time trying Syrian cuisine, and we loved every bite. The salad seemed simple enough, but was refreshing and light, and a good contrast to the complex beef sausage and the cumin (?) flavored cauliflower. Pomegranate seeds provided lovely punctuation marks everywhere.

We discussed our next visit even as we finished our little meal, and spent the rest of the afternoon wishing we could go right back for more. Based on comments above, I'd love to try Rima's chicken that requires 24-hour notice. The Kibbee Nayeh sounds so good it might be worth breaking my gluten-free diet to try (not much is worth that). This lovely place will become a prominent part of our rotation, to be sure!

As others have said, this is not just "middle eastern" cuisine, but uniquely Syrian (and Lebanese, which we look forward to trying). It is certainly a cuisine I'd like to get to know better.

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Heading for North Arlington to run errands yesterday and looking to try something new for lunch, we settled on Layalina, based mainly on Don's placing it at the top of his list for that area in the Dining Guide.

OK, it was raining, but we were the only diners in the place the entire time we were there. Service was gracious and welcoming. The decor was charming, and helped us feel like we were being swept far away from Northern Virginia.

To our extreme regret, we weren't very hungry, and WW was going for a run with the dog later, so we decided to share only three small plates: artichoke salad, the daily special of roasted cauliflower, and the soujuk. Wow!!! We practically licked our plates! It was our first time trying Syrian cuisine, and we loved every bite. The salad seemed simple enough, but was refreshing and light, and a good contrast to the complex beef sausage and the cumin (?) flavored cauliflower. Pomegranate seeds provided lovely punctuation marks everywhere.

We discussed our next visit even as we finished our little meal, and spent the rest of the afternoon wishing we could go right back for more. Based on comments above, I'd love to try Rima's chicken that requires 24-hour notice. The Kibbee Nayeh sounds so good it might be worth breaking my gluten-free diet to try (not much is worth that). This lovely place will become a prominent part of our rotation, to be sure!

As others have said, this is not just "middle eastern" cuisine, but uniquely Syrian (and Lebanese, which we look forward to trying). It is certainly a cuisine I'd like to get to know better.

Welcome to my world. If you need a tour guide next time, I would be honored.

Not to beat a dead horse, but in Sietsema's 50 Favorites, there is not one Middle Eastern restaurant. Simply in terms of atmosphere, ambiance, hospitality and graciousness, this place is easily Top 50, if not Top 10. But of all my favorite Middle Eastern haunts -- Mediterranean Gourmet Market, Lebanese Butcher, Jerusalem and even the resurgent Lebanese Taverna -- Layalina is the most consistent, the most enjoyable and the most Syrian.

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Not to beat a dead horse, but in Sietsema's 50 Favorites, there is not one Middle Eastern restaurant. Simply in terms of atmosphere, ambiance, hospitality and graciousness, this place is easily Top 50, if not Top 10. But of all my favorite Middle Eastern haunts -- Mediterranean Gourmet Market, Lebanese Butcher, Jerusalem and even the resurgent Lebanese Taverna -- Layalina is the most consistent, the most enjoyable and the most Syrian.

It's also the best. Lebanese Taverna is seriously overrated in comparison to Layalina, but I am secretly glad that Layalina stays (just slightly) below the radar.

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Just enjoyed another fine birthday meal at Layalina last night. I am unabashedly a fan of this place. It is all of mom-n-pop graciousness, honest food great service, good value and warm atmosphere.

Mezze covered the table and we variously chowed down on kibbee footballs (my 15-year-old son ate 12 of them), hummus, baba ghanouj, tabbouli, and beets with tabboulli. And, of course, kibbee nayee! Everything was fresh and flawless. The smokiness of the baba ghanouj and the absolute comfort of the kibbee nayee were highlights for me.

Last night, it was Rima's chicken for me and girlfriend, while the kids variously enjoyed warak enab (stuffed grape leaves), shish taouk (chiken kabob) and more kibbee footballs. The warak enab was very nice, with the grape leaf cigars served over pita and yogurt, and with a nice mound of braised lamb shank meat in the middle of the plate. Even my finicky 10-year-old son gobbled down the chicken kabobs with gusto.

Sam is a gracious host. And the kitchen didn't miss a beat even though Rima was out of town on a vacation to Kuwait and Syria. This is my comfort headquarters, and last night did not disappoint.

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Mezze covered the table and we variously chowed down on kibbee footballs (my 15-year-old son ate 12 of them)

Are you talking about the kind that you brought to the picnic? 12 of THEM??? I mean, I remember my brother at 15 getting up from the dinner table to look in the refrigerator to see if there was something to eat, but that's ridiculous.

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Are you talking about the kind that you brought to the picnic? 12 of THEM??? I mean, I remember my brother at 15 getting up from the dinner table to look in the refrigerator to see if there was something to eat, but that's ridiculous.

He's 15, but he's 6'3" and weighs 220 lbs., with the appetite of a racehorse. If I had brought him to the picnic I believe the pig would not have made it to the table.

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Layalina on a Friday night was fairly packed. Four of us arrived at 7:00 and were greeted like family. Of course, I am familiar with Sam and RIma, but everyone is greeted graciously here. I also arrived with an 'offering' of Al Massaya arak, to be enjoyed throughout dinner.

Ordering ahead is a good idea for some dishes. I ordered a double portion of Kibbee Nayee, which didn't last very long, and we also feasted on grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat, as well as Rima's Chicken, stuffed with rice and meat. These are all comfort dishes, but only available when you order ahead. I'm glad we did.

For the four of us, these dishes would have been enough, but then we were enticed by roasted cauliflower, along with a mezze of pomegranate hommus, baba ghanouj, tabbouli, fried kibbee and pickled eggplant. Then came some more mains, like spicy beef kabobs and flounder stuffed with spinach and feta, along with stuffed peppers.

All washed down with Al Massaya arak.

Oh yeah, then came coffee and pastries.

This restaurant remains the best representative of Middle Eastern cooking in the Washington DC area. Looking around tonight, at a crowd that filled the dining space and kept the staff hopping, I know many other people agree with me.

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Sam's and Rima's daughter handles the web site in a very, very part-time manner. They could probably use a little upgrade there....

But here's what you get at Layalina that you can't get anywhere else in the DC metropolitan area....

The most gracious host of any dining room in our area.

Plush and warm dining room decor that puts you in the mood for a Middle Eastern feast.

Genuine Syrian cooking.

A mezze selection that other Middle Eastern restaurants would be hard-pressed to beat, especially with seven different versions of hummus.

When you order ahead, the best kibbee nayeh, stuffed grape leaves and stuffed chicken in our area.

Even if you don't order ahead, lamb shanks that are blow-you-away good.

No rush....eat all night if you want to....Sam will join your party after closing time too....

Layalina is solidly in my rotation. When I look at Sietsema's or Washingtonian's various lists and see Artie's or a food cart, or even places that are now closed, I'm thinking Layalina isn't getting its appropriate share of love.

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Sam's and Rima's daughter handles the web site in a very, very part-time manner. They could probably use a little upgrade there....

But here's what you get at Layalina that you can't get anywhere else in the DC metropolitan area....

The most gracious host of any dining room in our area.

Plush and warm dining room decor that puts you in the mood for a Middle Eastern feast.

Genuine Syrian cooking.

A mezze selection that other Middle Eastern restaurants would be hard-pressed to beat, especially with seven different versions of hummus.

When you order ahead, the best kibbee nayeh, stuffed grape leaves and stuffed chicken in our area.

Even if you don't order ahead, lamb shanks that are blow-you-away good.

No rush....eat all night if you want to....Sam will join your party after closing time too....

Layalina is solidly in my rotation. When I look at Sietsema's or Washingtonian's various lists and see Artie's or a food cart, or even places that are now closed, I'm thinking Layalina isn't getting its appropriate share of love.

It's not getting enough love. Went there tonight for the second time and our experience confirmed Kibbee's. We used a Groupon coupon which implies that it needs a whole lot more love.

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It's not getting enough love. Went there tonight for the second time and our experience confirmed Kibbee's. We used a Groupon coupon which implies that it needs a whole lot more love.

Despite having been served some very flawed dishes here, I've had Layalina ranked as the #1 restaurant in North Arlington for quite awhile now, based on the whole package of ambiance, service, cuisine, friendliness, and that all-important criterion, the "intangible factor." (Note that this doesn't include specific neighborhoods (Ballston, Clarendon, etc.) - "North Arlington" is a large, lonely catchall in the Dining Guide for everything in Arlington north of Route 50 that doesn't neatly fit into a neighborhood, and it's a very imperfect category). Thank you, kirite, for re-highlighting Kibee Nayee's neatly written post from a year and a half ago. The three of us (Kibbee Nayee, kirite, and DonRocks) are a trilogy of old farts, "but, by cracky" <picture us shaking our rubber-tipped, well-worn, wooden canes at the young Yelp hipsters>, "we know what we like!"

Cheers,

Rocks ... and those would be Rocks from the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt.

"Getting old beats the flying fuck out of the alternative. (*)"

-- DonRocks

(*) When my number does eventually come up, I want an anthology of Rock-isms written for my great-great grandchildren, dammit. You can leave the one about Paris Hilton out. Either that or put it on the cover flap.

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I've had Layalina ranked as the #1 restaurant in North Arlington for quite awhile now, based on the whole package of ambiance, service, cuisine, friendliness, and that all-important criterion, the "intangible factor."

This is only because you erroneously have Puppetella, which is about 100 yards away from Layalina, listed under Ballston. I know I'm a weenie. I just can't help myself sometimes.

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A quick shout out to the cuisine at Layalina. A solid A for food, B minus for (over) service during a recent visit. The greeting, as always, was warm and welcoming. But we experienced far too many interruptions, from several different people, who inquired about plate clearing when we were trying to have a focused conversation in the uncrowded restaurant.

A few highlights:

  • The evening's special of lamb-stuffed eggplant delivered comforting heartiness, yet light enough for a summer meal. Stems still appearing on each of the two baked eggplant ovals were an impressive and appealing display.
  • From the mezza menu, the green beans demonstrated ideal texture, delicious and satisfying.
  • Also from the vegetable mezza, the shredded beets mixed with tahini, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts were the evening's favorite choice. Current headlines should preclude me from drawing too many comparisons to cалат из красной свеклы, but this pink splash of a dish is worth regular rotation on anyone's culinary radar screen.
  • The house white wine, a Lebanese variety, stood up nicely to these flavors, a refreshing and a pleasant change of pace.

(i'm totally posing)

(that's not russian)

(it's google translate)

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I live close by and wonder, every time I go, why I don't eat here more often. It's so good . . . . Oh, that's right - I have a 3 year old. But they catered to him nicely - mango juice and pasta. And he was taken by the decor - I find it charming inside.

Friend and I had the same eggplant dish as KMango - nothing left on the plate. Hummus and kibbe to start, both delicious. Friend had wine (didn't ask her how it was but it was gone) and I had the Lebanese beer Alhamra (sp?), a pilsner, which I tend to always like.

We used a Groupon but the bill was really reasonable for the quality of the food.

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I went here for a birthday dinner and thought it was alright. I'm glad I went, but wouldn't go again.

It is a great place to go for vegetarians since it has so many options and the service is warm.

inasmuch as you wouldn't go again, can you be a bit more specific about the items that you didn't like?

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I wrote a full review when I went (back in 2009).

We ordered the “Sultan’s Feast” which consists of twelve different dishes (Hommos with Shawarma, Baba Ghannoug, Macarona Bel Laban, Layalina Chicken Arayis, Soujok, Grape Leaves, Beet M’tabal, Kizbareyeh, Manaeesh Bel Zaatar, Malfoof Salad, Lubieh Bil Zeit, and Kabis).

Here is an excerpt from my review concerning the review. Like I said, the service was friendly, though the decor distracting.

The food is just average, in fact I’ve had better food at Lebanese Taverna and Zaytinya for about the same price. [...]

You should go here for the expansive menu. Those that like Lebanese food won’t be disappointed. There were 34 different vegetarian dishes alone, and about 7 of them were hommos! The bread they served us was dry, hard, and tasteless, but it only served as a way to eat the various dips and dishes, so that was fine. I was not at any point “wowed” by a dish, but I was never disgusted, turned off, or disappointed with a dish. It was all just “meh”.
[...]

My friend got a piece of baklava with a candle in it and we all sang Happy Birthday to her. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back (despite what Zagat and others say!)
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I wish I thought to go here more often than every couple of years. A lunch of mazza today was delicious and satisfying. We enjoyed the Syrian roasted eggplant dip, Felafel, Layalina beet salad, and Soujok, loving every bite, including the red-colored turnip pickles that decorated some of the plates. This place is off the beaten path of Ballston proper, and parking is kind of challenging. The decor may be dated, but conveys the atmosphere the owners are going for. But the food is so good, IMO, that it really should have more business than we observe when we're there. Admittedly, we haven't tried Lebanese Taverna, but we both agree that Layalina is the best example of Lebanese & Syrian cuisine that we have tried in Northern Virginia.

It may not be the best place for those of us with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, as cracked wheat is a prominent ingredient and bits of pita bread show up in sauces here and there. I ate carefully today and was OK, but I'm not willing to say it is gluten-free friendly . . . yet.

I hope that this place will get the love I think it deserves.

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...including the red-colored turnip pickles that decorated some of the plates.

We call these "lift" which is pronounced "liffit" or "kabeez al lift" in Arabic. Add some nice olives, and at least in Lebanon, some cornichon, and you have the pickled crunchies that my Levantine peeps like to nibble with their meals.

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