Beef shawarma with tahini sauce over rice pilaf and tabbouleh salad at the new Middle Eastern restaurant Layalina in Biddeford. Photo by Tim Cebula

BIDDEFORD — In a truly good food town, the kind Biddeford has become, even the quieter restaurant openings are cause for excitement.

Chef-driven spots like Fish & Whistle, or widely buzzed-about new breweries like SacredProfane necessarily attract attention, in part from the impressive credentials of their ownership teams. Restaurants that open in Biddeford these days know customer expectations have never been higher, even for eateries flying much lower on the radar.

Layalina, a value-priced Middle Eastern restaurant, opened in early September at 273 Main St., near Elements Coffee Shop. It’s owned by Talal Alzefiri, who also owns the Middle Eastern market Alhadini diagonally across the street.

Layalina’s menu is an appetizing blend of familiar Middle Eastern dishes like shawarma and falafel (available as sandwiches or platters), kebabs and salads like fried-pita fattoush ($6.99) and tabbouleh ($7.99) and sides such as hummus ($5.99), stuffed grape leaves ($6.99) and baba ghanoush ($5.99). Sandwiches cost between $5 and $11, while platters run from $10.99 for a falafel plate to $25.99 for a grilled whole chicken plate.

Pressed for time on a recent weekday, I ordered lunch to go. I was handed my order inside of 15 minutes, along with a bite of baklava on the house. Alzefiri hadn’t met me before and was unaware I was a reporter – he was just happy to meet a new customer, so he boxed up the sweet nibble for me as I waited for my lunch.

I’d ordered a beef shawarma plate ($15.99), featuring thin slices of deeply marinated, roasted beef set atop an aromatic, pillowy pilaf of long-grain basmati rice blended with toasted vermicelli noodles. The dish turned out to be exactly the kind of comfort food I needed on a cold, gray fall day, especially when blended with the nutty, addictively astringent tahini sauce and the small fresh greens salad that comes on the side.


The food didn’t suffer in the least over a 15-minute car trip. The shawarma components are all well seasoned and not dependent on any kind of delicate crisp or crunchy textures that might turn soggy in a steaming to-go box.

I also felt compelled to try the tabbouleh salad ($7.99). In my experience, I’ve found some tabbouleh mixtures can lean very heavy on the bulgur, making it into a grain salad more than anything else, while others use so much parsley it forms bouquets between the teeth.

I was thrilled to find that Layalina’s tabouleh hits the sweet spot in between, and it’s absolutely packed with fine-diced tomatoes and green onion, making it taste and feel like a savory and substantial veggie salad.

Layalina is open six days a week from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., closed on Tuesdays. The restaurant itself is bright and airy, high-ceilinged with expansive wooden tables – casual, unassuming and solid, just like the food itself.

If anyone in your party prefers more familiar fare, the menu also offers cheeseburgers ($4.99) and grilled chicken sandwiches ($8.99).

Now that I know Layalina can feed me well and fast in the middle of a work day, I’m looking forward to returning when I have the time to linger over something like the shish kebab plate ($17.99), the mixed grill platter ($21.99) or the grilled half chicken plate ($15.99). Hope I can remember to leave room for the baklava.

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