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YA HALLA

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I like Nicholas' Lebanese restaurant on Grand Ave just as much as the next guy, but quite often, it's crowded and the service suffers. That's just one of the reasons why I like Ya Halla. It's on 80th and SE Stark, which is close to my house, yet too far for most snooty hipsters to venture. There's almost always a seat, but I prefer to pick up a Makaly Plate and enjoy it with a movie at my house.

Ya Halla's food is simple and cheap. You can get freshly baked pita (which is so moist it melts in your mouth) and a big bowl of Lentil Soup for $4. Sometimes it's enough to last you two days. If you like garlic and spices, you can't really go wrong, and whatever you order tastes exactly like it's described in the menu--there aren't any surprises.

Ya Halla makes the standard fares of falafel sandwiches, hummus, and tabouli salad. All of them are excellent and worth trying, but for those of you that are a little tired of the old standbys, I suggest the Makaly Plate. It's a combo of eggplant, squash, and vegetables, deep-fried, then topped with garlic and lemon juice. The balance of fresh vegetables and deep fried goodness makes for a savory delight.

The Nakanik is a broiled beef sausage which the menu claims is "unavailable anywhere else" and are specially packed for the restaurant in accordance with "USDA approval." The Sambousak are deep fried meat pies that taste suspiciously like the pork pies my grandma used to make--except they have pine nuts and come with yogurt; an improvement over granny's already delicious recipe.

One should note that despite their succulent meat dishes, most of the menu is either vegan or vegetarian, and is clearly marked which is which. An added bonus to ordering takeout from Ya Halla: the restaurant is attached to a Lebanese deli. So, while you're picking up your lunch or dinner, you can also pick up a jar of imported olives, or a six-pack of Vimto soda, which is my new favorite mixer. It tastes like a fruity Coca-Cola. MB

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