I'm partial to my hometown of Madison for the global cuisine offerings. When I'm unable to travel, I can at least experience authentic ethnic food without leaving town.
One perfect example is Layla's Persian Restaurant. The venue and its spunky owner is housed below HI-Madison Hostel. What a perk to be a guest!
The minute I walked through the door I felt like I was "home." The restaurant is cozy, charming, and bedecked with lots of vibrant, personal touches.
Layla wears ALL the hats and will greet you, seat you, and serve you. She is personable, has an infectious laugh, and may even have time to sit down for a chat.
Is this your first restaurant and when did it open?
Yes, it's my first, and I opened about one and a half years ago.
Where do your cooking skills come from?
They are self-taught and from my grandmother.
In one word, what is unique about Persian food?
Persian food is aromatic. It's also very healthy, yet still flavorful.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would like to open a second restaurant in Madison that is perhaps more fast food style, fresh and vegetarian/pescetarian.
Moving on to the best part - the food! The menu offers six entrees, three of which are vegetarian or vegan, and several of the six are gluten-free and/or dairy-free.
I took Layla's recommendation and ordered the Khoresh e Ghemeh Bademjan (sans the eggplant) consisting of yellow split peas and basmati rice topped with a dollop of yogurt and the most crispy, to die for caramelized onions. Can I say foodgasm?!
I encourage everyone to pay a visit to Layla's Persian Restaurant, where you will come for the food and stay for the camaraderie.