Ya Hala

Beside my pita crumb-strewn table, a stout little pine tree wrestles a playful breeze, and through the stone archways of my villa’s lofty open terrace, I can gaze into the coastal valley below, at the peaceful Lebanese village perched on the edge of the deep blue-green Mediterranean. In the background, the lilting strains of a lute fill the cedar-scented air, and as I take another sip of arak and reflect on my good fortune, a nearby American voice bleats through a mouthful of falafel, “I never get tired of the food here!”

I have to admit, my raucous fellow diner has a point—it’s impossible to grow tired of Ya Hala’s authentic, lovingly prepared Middle Eastern delicacies.

And I’m instantly grounded, jolted from the windswept Lebanese villa of my fantasies to Montavilla’s cheerfully kitschy Ya Hala Lebanese restaurant, with its gold-tasseled copper-colored drapes, pine tree and shrub-filled window beds, pomegranate margarita-fueled joyful din, and huge wall murals of Mt. Lebanon and the surrounding countryside.

I have to admit, my raucous fellow diner has a point—it’s impossible to grow tired of Ya Hala’s authentic, lovingly prepared Middle Eastern delicacies. Chef Mirna Attar’s falafel is ethereal—orbs of ground garbanzo and fava beans tinted the color of fresh-cut grass by chopped fresh cilantro and parsley and flash fried until just a crackly, deep gold, paper-thin crust separates the moist mixture from your eager lips.

The baba ghanouj is as sultry and haunting as a Fairuz song, the lemon and mint-kissed tabouli is as fresh as a Mediterranean breeze, and the hummus has a garlicky kick to it that lingers like a lazy tendril of hookah smoke. Tiny locally-made soujouk rolled into pitas with tahini and tomatoes, olive-oil drizzled sheep’s milk feta and labneh, savory kafta kabobs, stuffed artichoke hearts, braised lamb shanks and eggplant and okra-choked stews round out your culinary excursion to the land of the Phoenicians.

For dessert, order a cream-filled Shaibeyat pastry floating in rose flower syrup, or one of three kinds of baklava, savor a Turkish coffee, and pretend you’re luxuriating in the hills of Batroun.

Next to Ya Hala is their adjoining market, International Food Supply, a tidy treasure trove of hookahs and Mediterranean pantry staples both familiar and exotic—stock up on flatbread, olives, sheep’s milk cheeses and Lebanese wines, as well as fresh pistachios, carp roe caviar, pickled sour grapes, labne, argan oil, orange flower water, and bulk spices like Syrian saffron, sumac, cardamom, black caraway and Aleppo pepper.

Details

Cuisine: Lebanese

Executive Chef: Mirna Attar

Owner: Mirna and John Attar

Atmosphere: Big, lively, family-friendly, pleasantly-kitschy restaurant with a cheerful buzz

Outdoor seating: Yes, the few sidewalk tables along SE Stark Street are highly coveted in fair weather

Best Seat: In the window or outside at one of the patio tables along SE Stark

Noise Level: Normal to Boisterous

Dress Code: Casual

Bring the Kids: Yes

Parking: Street parking is free and generally easy to find

Cocktails: Yes, there is a full bar and a selection of signature house cocktails

Beer: Yes

Wine: Yes

Teetotalers: Rose Water, Jallab, Tamarind, Mulberry, Sour Cherry (Soda Drinks), fruit juices, regular sodas

Coffee: Yes, Turkish and American

Tea: Yes

Ideal Meal: Cheese platter, veggie mezza, fatayer, makloube, kafta kabob, lamb shank, artichoke hearts, shaibeyat

Vegetarian Friendly: Yes

Vegan Friendly: Yes

Gluten Free: Yes

Good for the following occasions: Family Meal, Kid-Friendly, Falafel Cravings

Catering: Yes, Ya Hala can cater events of all sorts and sizes, call 503.256.4484 for more info

Reservations: No

Take-Out: Yes

Delivery: No

Catering: Yes, Ya Hala can cater events of all sorts and sizes, call 503.256.4484 for more info