When I was invited to try Yalla, the new Mediterranean fast-casual concept in the Burbank Empire Center, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Housed in the former location of Daphne’s Greek Cafe next to Target, the restaurant is decorated in a cheerful yellow and features an herb wall to symbolize their commitment to local sourcing and sustainability. In what has become known as the Chipotle style of ordering, you choose a hormone and antibiotic-free protein, then one of three styles — a wrap in a fresh, warm pita, a chopped salad (with fattoush or power greens, which honestly, I will never order, because it is called power greens) and my personal favorite — The Yalla Plate.
There is such a variety of proteins and sides that you can tailor your meal to any dietary requirements from vegan to low-carb. Choices include a Salmon Skewer, a Steak Skewer, Falafel, Chicken Shwarma, and Chicken Skewers. But seriously, you will probably become addicted to one of their two specialty dishes, the first one being the Shalafel, half shwarma and half falafel, which is perfect in a pita wrap with extra Tzatziki. My personal obsession is the incredibly tender Kefta Skewer with Turkish spiced ground lamb and beef grilled-to-order on a patented open-rotisserie. The ground meat has none of the gaminess, but all of the depth of lamb. It is perfect in a Yalla plate.
The Yalla Plate comes with with your choice of up to three sides ($7.75-$10.95). So you order the Israeli Cous Cous, which is hearty and a little sweet, the Greek Potato Salad with a kick of Red Wine Vinegar, Moroccan raw, grated carrot salad, which is intense with cumin and sweetened with golden raisins, or Beet Salad with Feta, Greek vinaigrette, and just enough kale to pretend that you are healthy. They also have parsnips, Turkish Slaw, and a kale salad, but, kale = power greens. This is where things get crazy. Your plate is now heaped with food, and you think it’s over, but no, then they ask you if you want Basmati rice, or lentils, or a combination of squashes. I usually get half rice and half squash. Now your plate is freakishly large. You might as well just double the meat and split it with someone.
So in the last week, I have been to Yalla four times. I can’t get enough of the Kefta. My neighbor has started calling me and subtly asking where I “got that food,” so I dutifully pick her up a plate of Kefta now too. The other day she called and asked if maybe I could just get a little chicken for her friend. So now I am scoring Yalla for the entire neighborhood. Beware. This could happen to you.
A portion of the food and drink were comped. All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat.