Ever since World's Fairs were outlawed in 1986, many have had to resort to reading or amateur cartography to gain an international outlook. Global awareness is delivered through grub with today's Groupon: for $20, you get $40 worth of food and drink at Layalina Restaurant, located in Arlington. Layalina Restaurant is closed on Monday.
Layalina derives the lamb's share of its fare from the secret recipes of owner and executive chef Rima Kodsi's grandmother. Layalina ably represents its Lebanese and Syrian culinary heritage, with an extensive menu of freshly made specialties. Layalina's six lamb-shank dishes have cartwheeled to the top of many carnivores' culinary canons with a fall-off-the-bone flavor that comes from simmering in saunas of oils, herbs, spices, and vegetables ($21.95 each).
Herbivores and herbivoyeurs get the meatless red-carpet treatment with more than 25 vegetarian dishes, including traditional hummus ($6.95) and bamieh bel zeit, a sautéed okra dish served with rice ($15.95). Kodsi also puts together acclaimed daily specials that can only be discovered by cracking a series of coded numerical patterns in the year-to-date pollen count, or by showing up at the restaurant.
Layalina Restaurant's interior transports patrons to the Middle East without the appetite-suppressing transatlantic swim. Authentic artifacts line the walls, with ornate rugs swooping down from the ceiling and elaborate lighting fixtures shining like kaleidoscopic mini-suns overhead.
Named after the owners' youngest daughter Layal and an Arabic word meaning "our nights," Layalina Restaurant makes every meal feel like a family dinner. The staff is dedicated to a high level of service that makes every guest feel at home, whether their local regulars or visiting dignitaries such as the crown prince of Bahrain. The decor adds to the inviting experience, with metal chandeliers casting a warm glow and colorful fabrics draped along the ceiling that evoke a tent canopy or hammocks hung playfully out of reach.
The menu showcases family recipes that blend Lebanese and Syrian traditions to create succulent kebabs and vegetarian dishes that earned praise from Gayot. The Washington Post highlighted flavorful appetizers, including the kafta bil jawz, a signature dish that combines lean beef with walnuts, pepper, bulghur, and an enchanting bouquet of herbs. The Post also recognized the hearty entrees, saying that "it would be a shame to miss out on fried lamb shank with creamy orzo."