Ever since World's Fairs were outlawed in 1986, many have had to resort to reading or amateur cartography to gain an international outlook. Today's Groupon delivers global awareness through grub. For $20, you get $40 worth of food and drink at Layalina Restaurant, located in Arlington. Layalina Restaurant is open every day but Monday.
Established in 1997, Layalina derives the lamb's share of its fare from owner and executive chef Rima Kodsi's grandmother's secret recipes. One of the highest-quality Lebanese and Syrian restaurants in the area, Layalina ably represents its culinary heritages with an extensive menu of freshly made meals. Layalina's six lamb-shank dishes ($21.95 each) 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, spice, and vegetables. Herbivores and herbivoyeurs get the meatless red-carpet treatment at Layalina, with more than 25 vegetarian dishes on the menu, including traditional hummus ($6.95) and the 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's to-date pollen count, or by showing up at the restaurant.
Layalina Restaurant's interior transports patrons to the Middle East without the pesky trans-Atlantic swim. Authentic artifacts line the walls, with ornate rugs swooping down from the ceiling and elaborate lighting fixtures shining like kaleidoscopic mini-suns overhead. An array of photographs also show some of the restaurant's well-known clientele—a veritable who's who of Beltway insiders and icons.
The Washington Post chose Layalina as an Editors' Pick:
- Rima Kodsi isn't shy about letting you know how good her restaurant is… Her boasting is mostly justified. Baba ghanouj weaves together smoke, velvet and garlic. Something as simple as a plate of fried potato cubes tossed with cilantro and garlic is quick to become an addiction. Yogurt is made from scratch and served as a tart, snow-white well for chopped tomato and crushed mint. Tempting as it is to order just appetizers from the dozens available, do yourself a favor and delve deeper into the menu; it would be a shame to miss out on fried lamb shank on creamy orzo. – Tom Sietsema, Washington Post
The Washingtonian likes Layalina's service and Middle Eastern ambience:
- Diners here feel that they are in a Middle Eastern cocoon, with rugs on the floor and the walls, soft cushions, and pretty artifacts. Service is conscientious. The owners, a couple from Lebanon and Syria, have put together a fine restaurant. – David Dorsen, Washingtonian
- In a city with a lot of middle eastern restaurants, Layalina is the real deal. Family owned, very welcoming service, and fabulous food, at reasonable prices. Many, many vegetarian and even vegan options, and tasty too. – dewmath, Washington City Paper
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."