Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I’m not sure when it happened but while on my way home a few weeks ago, the Culpepper’s on St. Charles Rock Road turned into a Ya-Hala, a Middle Eastern restaurant. As soon as I got home, I immediately started to plan a dinner date with my fellow “food adventurers”. While we usually aim for ethnic restaurants, a brand new restaurant was a double bonus.

Now I should add the disclaimer that along with new technology, it’s usually better to let the “early adopters” work out all the kinks before investing. So I went ahead knowing full well that the service was not going to be the best, but our meals were actually pretty good.

My friends were the most daring in ordering baba ghanoush as an appetizer for the very first time, which came with only a few soft pita breads. We all looked at each other knowing it wouldn’t be enough but our server was only happy to bring more…after a short delay and asking a few times. We got good at asking for what we needed in advance so there would be less of a wait, but the biggest need was for the outdoor heater! Sitting on the patio was great while the sun was up but too chilly after dark, so the outdoor heater made all the difference. The owner also plans to enclose the patio with a tent, especially since it is used for smoking hookah pipes.

Ya-Hala has a large menu and reasonably priced combinations so I was able to get lamb kabobs that came with a side dish of hummus so that I didn’t have to order it as an appetizer. Actually, there was so much food that came with the platter combo that I really didn’t end up eating much of the hummus at all. Plus my friends shared a few items off their plate, and I believe I tried kibbeh, which was very dry. It could have used more of the yogurt sauce either on top or as a side dip.

We also shared a pitcher of Mojitos and the flavor wasn’t quite right. Probably not quite the right drink for Middle Eastern food anyway?

The server apologized several times for the service, even though it seemed slow inside, but it wasn’t too bad since we weren’t in any rush. In fact, we stuck around to try one of the hookah pipes with Tropical Fruit flavor. There had to be up to fifteen or so different flavors too. The best part about the patio is that we quickly bonded with our table neighbors while sharing the heaters or advice on how to use the hookahs. Then the owner came out and talked with us for a while about his plans for the restaurant.

While it’s not anything fancy, it really fits the “casual, cheap, quick bite in the neighborhood” kind of place that isn’t a chain or typical American food.