When the terms “Middle Eastern food” and “to-go” are combined in the same sentence, what often comes to many people’s minds is shawarma in all its pungent pita-wrapped glory, or freshly seared kebabs. One place that is out to challenge this notion is Yalla Yalla Express, which features Lebanese cuisine, located on Don Pedro Street in Poblacion, Makati.
We espied this tiny restaurant during our previous forays in the area, but we only got around to trying it out one late afternoon, thanks to feeling a little peckish after work. From outside we could already smell the rich flavours of roasted beef and chicken shawarma, and just the slightest hint of spices. Inside the simply furnished restaurant, we immediately found the posted menu, which aside from shawarma, also offers beef kebab, falafel, shish taouk (chicken skewers), and sujuk (spicy sausage). These meat choices can be served up either as wraps, or with rice. Yalla Yalla Express also has sandwiches, brick oven pizzas, and traditional dips such as hummus and moutabal (roasted eggplant)
Since we decided that our meal was to be an early dinner, we opted to try the shish taouk and the sujuk, both served with turmeric rice. Each meal came with Lebanese picked vegetables (cucumber, tomato, and beetroot), as well as onions tossed with pepper and spices. These vegetables provided a welcome contrast to the heady tastes of the meat and turmeric rice. Unlike many pickled vegetables which are tart and sometimes almost acrid, Lebanese pickled vegetables are more sweet-sour, even refreshing in flavor.
The shish taouk was cooked enough to lock in the subtle flavour of the chicken meat, but not too much to the point of drying it out. On the other hand the sujuk’s spiciness was more than the simple, explosive heat of chilis; it was a deep flavour that lingered on the tongue and yet did not overwhelm the palate. A nice addition was the presence of garlic sauce as well as chilli sauce, allowing for diners to add a little more savor to the food. The only thing missing in our dining experience was a tall glass of yogurt to wash it all down.
At this point Yalla Yalla Express is still in its soft opening phase. We hope that more customers will give this place—and Lebanese cuisine—a try. It is indeed a hidden gem in the labyrinth of Poblacion.
The Food Score: 4.5/5. This is true for both flavour and quality, as well as authenticity. Lee says that the food we had was just almost like the food he enjoyed during his stint in the Middle East. The slight bugaboo we had was finding the turmeric rice to be on the oily side, but this didn’t detract much from our enjoying the meal. The prices are a bit higher than what one would expect for take-out meals, but the quality certainly justifies the cost.
Ambiance/Service Score: 4/5. Our food came in takeout boxes, which we suppose is due to this place being an ‘express’ establishment that can cater to those on-the-go. This, along with the minimalist furnishing of the restaurant, made our experience feel a little less homey. However the service was efficient and friendly, something we definitely appreciated
GERD Score: 4/5. Normally, when one combines the words “meat” and “rice”, one would think that it’s a recipe for heartburn disaster, but in this case, even with the slight oily feel from the rice, the food is pretty good for someone managing it. Again, triggers differ from one person or the other, but as long as you chew slowly and set aside the trigger food, you’ll be fine.
Epilepsy Score: 4/5. Dishes here do not make use of processed meats, which is a relief to those who cannot eat items laden with preservatives. However diners who are sensitive to spices may need to eschew some of the meals like the rice boxes we had.
Team Glasses Score: 4/5. This place is still in its soft opening, but already we can consider dining here to be rather worthwhile. We look forward to coming back for even better Lebanese food next time around.