Most people in Central Arkansas are familiar with Layla’s, Mahmoud Jitali’s Mediterranean restaurant and halal grocery on Rodney Parham Road in Little Rock, but in the past year Layla’s has expanded south into Bryant – and the results have been delicious. We’ve got a soft spot for the Bryant location since we live just a five minute drive down the highway from it. Jess was first introduced to Layla’s by a food segment on our local morning show and since the first time we tried it, the restaurant has been one of our go-to places for sit down dinners or takeout.
Layla’s menu is diverse, encompassing staples of Middle-Eastern cuisine like falafel, hummus, and their excellent gyros along with pizzas, a Mediterranean burger, and their excellent calzones. Tonight, Jess and I started with a falafel plate (right) which comes with four of the chickpea croquettes, bowls of tangy taziki sauce and Layla’s rich hummus, and warm pita bread. This plate is listed as an appetizer, but it can easily make a lunch, especially if paired with a bowl of hot, satisfying lentil soup. The falafel is well-seasoned, crispy on the outside with a soft middle, not over-seasoned and dry like falafel can sometimes be.
Jess ordered what I think might be the best thing on the menu: the Yogurt Plate, which comes with a choice of gyros meat or shawarma chicken (both are good) with onions and mushrooms over basmati rice, covered in a rich, savory yogurt broth. The portion is huge – I’ve never yet finished an entire plate in one sitting, which is fine, as the yogurt plate warms up splendidly for lunch the next day. The plate is finished off with a small green salad and more of the warm, fresh pita – perfect for sopping up all that yogurt goodness.
I was torn between ordering the kibbeh, a bulgur wheat and lamb meatball that’s deep-fried a golden brown, and one of the calzones, but finally decided on a Gyros Calzone. The calzone is huge, filled with gyros meat and cheese, and the crust is thin, crispy, and covered in flavorful herbs and Parmesan cheese. Layla’s offers a pepperoni and three-meat calzone option, so even the picky eater in your group can find something they’ll like here. Layla’s pizza options are just as good, and their Greek pizza (covered in feta cheese, gyros meat and onions) is a must-try.
The food at Layla’s is about as good and authentic as any ethnic cuisine you’ll find. Jitali, the proprietor, is a friendly and warm host, and as a halal butcher, assures that the food you’re eating is fresh and prepared according to the strictest standards. Prices are very reasonable – only one dish on the menu exceeds ten dollars (and that one is a sampler of pretty much everything). Finish everything off with a crisp piece of baklava and a strong cup of Turkish coffee and you will leave full, satisfied, and eager to come back and try something else new. Layla’s in Bryant is open Monday-Thursday 11-8 and until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s not far from the I-30 Bryant exit, so stop by next time you’re through!
Update 8/5/11: Unfortunately, the Bryant location of Layla’s has closed down. Bryant really isn’t known for its adventurous tastes, being more of a land of national chains and fast food joints. You can still sample the excellent food at Layla’s at their Rodney Parham Road location in Little Rock.