Unfortunately Yalla is no longer in business.
I needed a quick to go meal tonight and as I am always craving Mediterranean food, I tried out Yalla Mediterrean Grill at the corner of Beach and Hodges, right next to Copper Taphouse. From Yalla’s website, it is owned by three friends who wanted to bring traditional Mediterranean food to Jacksonville. “Yalla” translates to “Come on!”, so the friends wanted to name the restaurant that to create a welcoming environment. Yalla is a tiny restaurant; there were less than ten tables inside. I have absolutely no experience with hookah, but there were many pipes on shelves along the walls so that may be a nice option for those who like that sort of thing. Everyone orders at the counter in the back of the restaurant, and then your food is brought to your table. The menu has all your staple Mediterranean items on it including schwarmas, kababs, kibbeh, and falafel and a large amount of side orders. I like how their menu is organized—you essentially choose your main dish then you can order it in a wrap (no sides included), a plate (two sides included), or a triple (three sides included). I opted for a chicken schwarma plate ($9.75) with hummus and yogurt salad as my sides. I also ordered spanakopita ($1.25), which comes as a separate item, and an extra container of tzatziki sauce. The two women running the register/order station were extremely friendly. One put my order into the register while the other wrote it down then took it back to the kitchen to prepare. It was quiet for dinner time, only three tables were filled so it was a good gauge of their average wait for to-go meals. While I waited I looked around to see what other people ordered and the wraps seem to be a very popular option. That may be something that I try ordering in the future since it seemed a favorite. I only waited roughly ten minutes before my food was brought to me. It was wrapped very securely, and in several layers to keep it warm which I always appreciate for to go meals.
When I got home, all my food was still very hot. I was very happy to see that the chicken schwarma was cooked on a spit and chipped off of the spit which is how I prefer it. The chicken was incredibly moist and well seasoned. It was cooked absolutely perfectly. I was a little surprised by the yogurt salad. I was expecting a salad with yogurt dressing on top, but it was actually just a thinner and way better version of their tzatziki sauce with lots of thinly sliced cucumber and mint. I would love to recreate this side myself and use it as a salad dressing, but for my purposes here it worked great as a dipping sauce for my pita bread and chicken. Hummus is one of those items that it’s hard to have a bad or outstanding hummus. Generally hummus just falls to whether it’s a thicker hummus with less olive oil or a creamier hummus. Yalla’s hummus is on the creamy side with lots of olive oil in it and a good, rich tahini flavor. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the yogurt salad. I had high hopes for the spanakopita after enjoying the other items as it is one of my favorite items to order at Mediterranean restaurants. For those who don’t eat Mediterranean food often, spanakopita are tiny spinach pies seasoned with lemon juice and Greek seasonings. Yalla’s spanakopita was very disappointing. The spanakopita was not breaded in phyllo, instead it was baked into a bread textured much like a calzone. The bread was dry and flavorless and tough to chew. The spinach inside was awful. It was overcooked and extremely bitter and also dry like the bread. I don’t know if mine was old or if this is their normal recipe, but either way it will not be something I risk ordering again.
Overall I was pleased with Yalla’s variety on their menu and I will eat there again, especially to try their wraps and to get more yogurt salad. I’d also like the opportunity to try more of their sides to get a better gauge of the large variety of food they offer. I got the feeling from my visit that it is more a quick lunch option than a sit down dinner restaurant. It’s a nice casual environment similar to a cafe where I would feel comfortable working or reading and having a meal. I’m not sure with the tiny tables and the hookah options that it would be the right place for a family dinner, but it is definitely a good place to meet with friends. They were a quick option for a to-go meal and I was very happy with the quantity of food for the price. You get a tremendous amount of meat with your order and the sides are also well portioned. It’s one of the better Mediterranean restaurants in Jacksonville that I have tried, and is one of the closest to authentic cuisine that I’ve had here as well.