One of the humble joys in life is finding a new favorite restaurant.
Which is why we're happy to introduce you to Ya Halla, an excellent Mediterranean and American restaurant in a converted Wendy's on a stretch of Alexis Road in North Toledo. From the street, the place is unassuming, but inside the comfortable, warm interior design looks nothing like an old fast food joint and the staff is congenial and punctual.
Best of all, the food is fantastic, making the three-year-old restaurant owned by Karam Abdo a most welcome addition in a market that already features top-notch Middle Eastern food.
Start with the hummus with sauteed veggies ($8) appetizer, which is a large plate of green, yellow, and red peppers, onions, carrots, and mushrooms surrounded by a perfect circle of paprika-spiced hummus. The vegetables are sauteed in "special sauces" and the only thing the cook would reveal about the flavoring is that it includes some Cajun seasoning. The result is a wonderful dish that mixes the sweet carrots with the earthy mushrooms and peppers in a marriage of tastes that is exceptional.
We also had the meat grape leaves ($6), which our waiter said had been freshly made that morning by Mr. Abdo's wife. They were perfectly rolled like tight, finger-fat cigars, and had none of the salty, briny taste that too often dominates grape leaves. The result was that the beef, lamb, rice, and seasoning were able to stand out, especially when dipped in the homemade yogurt.
Dinner included the mixed grill kabob ($18), which included a skewer each of shish kabob, chicken kabob, and kafta. The chicken and kafta were great examples of how we like Mediterranean food: seasoned appropriately so that the full nature of the dish comes through, but without being overwhelming. Unfortunately, the steak was a let-down: ordered medium, it was too chewy and lacked flavor.
The chicken ghalaba ($9/$13) featured the same seasoning base as the hummus with sauteed veggies -- already a winner -- with chicken breast, sauteed with carrots, peppers, onions and mushrooms.
We also started the meal with a Greek salad ($5/$7) that was an impressive pile of lettuce, cucumbers, feta cheese, tomatoes, and green peppers, with a homemade oil dressing and banana peppers and olives on the side. The ingredients were fresh and cold and the dressing was perfect for dipping the complimentary pita bread.
Lunch included shawarma ($9/$14), marinated chicken breasts served over a bed of rice with a side of garlic sauce. Once again, a winner, with the seasoned rice working in tandem with the chicken and making for a good pita stuffer.
A beef and lamb gyro sandwich ($5) is a decent bargain, but we're always disappointed when gyros are made this way: A large, thin, dry pita stuffed with layers of lettuce, meat, tomatoes and the cucumber sauce. The taste was good, but we'd prefer a gyro that holds together better on a thicker bread and that you can pick up with two hands and eat without it becoming a mess.
When we went to Ya Halla for dinner, only one other table was occupied and the lunch crowd on a weekday was similarly sparse. The dining room in the evening was warm and we could've stayed there all night, eating and enjoying a few beverages (Ya Halla serves beer and wine). But at lunch the temperature wasn't adjusted well and the place was too cold. On both of our visits the wait staff was ideal.
Ya Halla deserves more business and it's a safe bet that if you're a fan of Mediterranean food from a kitchen that features fresh ingredients and original recipes, you will join us and declare this place a regular among your dining-out options.
Coupons are available from its Web site: yahallarestaurant.com.
Contact Bill of Fare at email@example.com.
Ya Hall Restaurant: ****
Address: 2124 W. Alexis Rd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Average price: $$
Credit Cards: AE, Disc, MC, V
Web site: www.yahallarestaurant.com/