Warm. Welcoming. Delicious food that is perfect for sharing. These aren’t the typical adjectives used when describing a high-end restaurant. But Leila, one of Detroit’s biggest culinary superstars that has named a national name for itself, isn’t your typical place. And that’s because it is the kind of eatery where family and feasting go together in a new way.
Leila is named after its patron saint, so to speak – the woman whose recipes, talent for entertaining and commitment to her family are her most treasured gifts. Her ability to balance her love of food and family gave inspiration to Leila the restaurant, according to its owners, and they strive to make their Detroit hot spot as welcoming as she is in real life.
Her weekly Sunday dinners were legendary, and the entire family is restaurant royalty in Metro Detroit. The family also owns Phoenicia in Birmingham, and their commitment to creating cosmopolitan locations has created rabid fans who return again and again. More importantly, they share the word and their food pictures on social media, which has given Leila street credibility as well as a long reservation list.
The restaurant’s menu is full of Leila the Mom’s influence. There are simple comforts, like a lentil soup or a plate of Fattoush, rich with zaatar spices. The cold dishes are well flavored with a tomato kibbeh, labneh with rich olive oil, warak with hearty tomatoes and a Baba Ghanouj that honors its eggplant ingredient with a smooth-as-silk puree.
If you’re looking for warmth, then you have to trail the grilled quail with pomegranate molasses and dates. If you want something fresh and light, there’s the Shish Barak, a carefully curated lamb pastry with a refreshing yogurt sauce. If you want tons of spice, try the Sujuk, an Armenian sausage that will delight your palate and fill your stomach.
The real star of the show are the entrees – lovely dishes that bring forward everything that Leila stood for on a plate: Big flavors and beautiful presentation. There’s the Baby Back Ribs with its signature Samy Spice. There’s the Creekstone Ribeye, a huge portion with its tangy Lebanese zip sauce. If you’re looking for a vegetarian variation, try the Mjaddara, a spicy Lebanese salad.
And don’t forget about dessert – you will need to save room for sure. Order a Lebanese coffee for starters. Then consider a Vegan Sorbet, which is served with fresh fruit, or the Lebanese Sundae, which has Ashta ice cream and a fairy floss that seems to float on air. If you want something heartier, try the Kanafeh, which combines shredded phyllo, ackawi cheese and a simple rose syrup that adds a touch of sweetness without overpowering the dish.
Leila’s interior is as much as tribute to its namesake as the food is. There is a quiet simplicity to its elegance. There are clean brick walls punctuated with white columns. The front window that overlooks the Capital Park area brings in endless natural light during the day and a moody ambiance during the evenings. The huge chandelier in the middle adds a warmer light to the interior, bringing a glow to every face, adding to the beauty of the food and its presentation. In other words, everyone looks beautiful when eating at Leila’s.