The words that come to mind for Layalina Restaurant and Hookah Lounge are “hidden gem”. My guest and I had never heard of Layalina before but boy are we glad we know now. Layalina Restaurant and Hookah Lounge is located at 9735 Old St Augustine Road in a shopping plaza. The restaurant is family-owned and managed by one of the daughters, Ganelle, who was absolutely wonderful. The space itself is very big — with some outside seating that includes fire pit tables and plenty of seating inside as well. When you first enter the restaurant, you’ll notice the back wall is painted to resemble the nighttime sky which adds to its hookah lounge appeal with dark windows, low light, and Syrian music playing in the background.
I consider myself a big fan of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods and Layalina did not disappoint. When first seated, we were given what they call “snacks” — hummus, baba ganoush, raw kibbeh, muhammara, mixed nuts, pickled veggies, and pita. This is my kind of snack pack! The idea of snacks in a hookah lounge is great, because as you smoke hookah, you’ll also want something to be munching on. I agree with this, 100 percent. I also think this rule should apply to anything in life. #SnackSquad. My favorites would be the hummus — made fresh by the chef, the creamiest, smoothest hummus I have ever had, and now my mouth is watering, the pickled veggies — which are freshly pickled by the chef, and the baba ganoush — packed with flavor and the texture wasn’t too mushy, which is something I always look for in a good baba ganoush. The raw kibbeh was the most interesting and I’d have to say probably an acquired taste. It’s raw meat grinded down to almost a paste with spices and seasoning and you eat it alone or with pita. This is something you should try and see for yourself if you like it. My guest didn’t care for the texture, but I liked it and found myself eating it more than I thought I would.
While we dug into our snacks, our server came by and took our drink orders and hookah orders. To drink we had their mint lemonade, which is made fresh each day. The mint lemonade was delicious — so fresh and lightly sweetened.
My guest and I are not avid hookah smokers, but enjoy it occasionally. The servers and Ganelle were so helpful with helping us decide what to get and what different flavors meant on the menu. That’s always a great sign, especially for people who haven’t smoked hookah before. The great thing about hookah at Layalina is that they label their hookahs, meaning only a specific flavor goes in specific hookahs. This helps flavors not get mixed around. Another thing I noticed is that with every hookah order, you get a brand new hose, which is extremely sanitary. Layalina also does not wrap the coals in foil — this allows your smoke to last longer. Our servers were very attentive with stopping by and making sure our coals were flipped over or replaced with new hot coals.
For our entrees, we tried a couple different things. First was beef and chicken shawarma — served up on a platter with steak-cut seasoned french fries, more pickled veggies, garlic spread, and pepper paste. The shawarmas were both delicious. The seasoning and flavors were on point and when you added the garlic spread, it was a yummy explosion in my mouth. The fries were tasty as well and I could eat those pickled veggies all day long. To accompany the shawarmas, we were served a mediterranean salad with different olives and a light dressing. The salad was great with fresh vegetables and different types of olives. Last up was a taste of some chicken hearts — you read that right. If you’re a gizzard lover, liver lover, or any other organ lover, you’ll most likely enjoy these. They were marinated with a pomegranate juice which gave them a sweet tangyness — a super interesting dish which is common in the Syrian culture.
My guests and I were invited to stick around for a traditional Syrian party, which added to the overall experience. Layalina hosts parties once or twice a month and invites the public to purchase tickets to experience the culture through authentic food, music, hookah, and a great time.
Overall, I think I’ve found a new spot and I hope you guys check it out. A family-run restaurant serving up delicious and authentic middle eastern foods, Layalina should be on your “restaurants to visit” list. Say hello to Ganelle and be sure to give the chef (Ganelle’s father) big props for his dedication to fresh, never frozen ingredients in the kitchen. His hummus is to die for! We’re definitely going back.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant or to taste new menu items. This meal is usually comped, as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.