Got Me on My Knees, Laila
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Got Me on My Knees, Laila

While investigating the strange posters around town that accuse Laila Restaurant (553 Bloor Street West) of being hazardous to your health, Torontoist decided to take the opportunity to actually try some of their killer food ourselves.

Upon entering, Laila appears just like any other affordable Middle Eastern restaurant in town. A long, glassed-in counter at the front proudly displays stews, rice dishes, vegetables, and sides while a vertical spit skewers layers of chicken for shawarma. Whether eating in or taking out, all orders are received and paid for at the cash, which is right next to the tap dispensing Mill Street Original Organic Lager.
The most expensive things on the menu cost $8.50 (Shish Taouk Combo; Shish Kebab Combo)—amazing considering that Fariha Sleiman, who has been doing all the cooking for the past thirteen years, makes everything from scratch (with the small exception of the baklava). Many inexpensive places make their falafel from a mix, but she starts with fresh chickpeas and fries them to order, probably no small part of why they were voted Best Falafel in Toronto by the readers of NOW for multiple years. We had to try it.
If possible, dine in when having the Falafel Combo ($6.95)—it comes beautifully arranged on a ceramic plate. The combo includes four falafel balls, a generous amount of hummus, tabouli, tossed salad, homemade deep-fried pita chips, and two kinds of rice (one mixed with lentils; one with saffron and vegetables). The falafel is amazing—freshly fried and crunchy on the outside with a hearty texture within. The pita chips are delicious and perfect for scooping up the creamy hummus.
Quite a few people came in just for samosas, so we had to sample those as well. Even though these aren’t traditional Middle Eastern fare, Fariha does an excellent job of making a fusion-like variety. The skin is thin and crispy like an egg roll wrapper, which makes them lighter than traditional ones. They’re a modest size so you could feasibly eat two—a good thing because both the beef and vegetarian versions are fantastic. The veggie has small cubes of potato with peas, carrots, and corn. The beef is similar in spicing, but with ground beef, corn, and potato, like a deep-fried shepherd’s pie. Meat samosas frequently tend to be dry inside, but this one is dripping with savoury juices.
We didn’t try them, but they also have great options for vegetarians. Today, Fariha made three different stews (okra and tomato; chickpea and eggplant; zucchini, eggplant, and potato), sautéed cauliflower, sautéed eggplant, garlic potatoes, and spinach lentil soup. You can build your own vegetarian combo by paying $3.99 for two choices and adding $1 for each additional dish.
Fariha learned to cook when she was just twelve years old by watching and helping her mother feed the family in her native Lebanon, and we’re lucky to be able to eat her authentic, carefully prepared, and not at all injurious food at Laila.
All photos by Kaori Furue/Torontoist.