Restaurant review: Layla's Kitchen

G.A. Benton
Chicken Tikka

When it comes to Indian restaurants, Layla's Kitchen is a hidden gem. Put another way, the terrific little eatery deserves more attention.

Following a recent renovation, two-year-old Layla's — a mom-and-pop shop whose steady to-go business is facilitated by a convenient drive-through window — offers an agreeable enough ambience. Along with a fresh coat of taupe paint, Layla's simple but bright and spotless space features a decorative 3-D ceiling grid, friendly servers, plus an upbeat Indian pop soundtrack.

Great values abound on its menu of mostly Northern Indian fare. One of these deals is the mammoth Samosa Chaat ($4.49) — a traditional, street food-style appetizer with a kitchen-sink approach to garnishing.

The humongous starter is a spicy, tangy, fruity, crisp and starchy party in your mouth consisting of a chopped potato pastry elaborately topped with cilantro, onions, tomatoes, various chutneys, crushed papadums and eggy chaat masala powder. Alcohol — such as a snack-compatible beer — isn't offered, but the colorful dish pairs well with Layla's winning Chai Masala ($2): frothy and milky hot tea fragrant with clove and cardamom.

If you've priced good cuts of lamb lately, you'll know that Layla's standout $13 Rack of Lamb, which is enhanced by fajita-style peppers and onions, is another bargain. Five thick and meaty chops coated in an aromatic red paste arrive exceedingly tender from a yogurt-based marinade. The delicious meat showcases a skill for grilling.

Ditto for the similarly prepared, even-bigger Chicken Tikka ($8) — an excellent and inexpensive dish highlighting smokily seared boneless thighs. I also enjoyed the modest-sized and sweeter-than-usual Chicken Vindaloo ($9), which is topped with sticks of bracing raw ginger, but would give my poultry nod to the hulking tikka.

Layla's is also a rewarding place to get your goat. Like most of the dishes here, the killer Goat Bhuna ($11) is spicy, not fiery. The tender meat — mine wasn't a bit gamy, although I did encounter some pesky connective tissue — tastes great, but the complex curry sauce is the star.

Fashioned, as many of Layla's sauces are, with ground seeds (e.g. cumin, fennel) and flecked with fenugreek leaves, the addictive sauce is fried in ghee until dark, faintly sweet and reduced to thick. As with other curries on the menu, the entree is served with laudably textured and seasoned basmati rice.

To guarantee that no sauce shall be abandoned on your plate, a nice variety of fresh house-made breads are available for mop-up duty. Garlic fanatics should target the soft and puffy but potent and crisp-edged Garlic Nan ($2.50).

For a hefty loaf that's practically a meal, try the first-rate Aloo Paratha ($4) — a floppy, unleavened flatbread made with whole wheat flour that gets baked with curried peas and smashed potatoes in its middle. After being removed from the oven, the disc is quickly pan-fried so it arrives ghee-enriched, attractively brown and crisply dark-spotted.

The recommended Hyderabadi Dum Biryani ($12) is a smart pick for an economical one-dish meal that serves two people. (“Dum” refers to a method of slow-cooking in a covered pot.) Raw onion rings and perfectly cooked hard eggs decorate a large platter of fluffy basmati rice lashed with spiced ghee and pocketed with cloves and cardamom pods. Hidden beneath the flavorful grains are big pieces of tender chicken. On the side: cumin- and chaat masala-scented house raita that is thicker and zippier than what you generally get elsewhere.

Considering that distinct, delicious and budget-friendly dishes like this are pretty common here, if little Layla's isn't already on your list of “must-visit” Indian restaurants, it should be.

Layla's Kitchen

4989 Cleveland Ave., Northeast Side