Despite a lifetime in the restaurant industry, launching his own eatery was a big jump, Alaa Bataineh said.
Luckily, Leyla’s Mediterranean Cafe was an instant hit in the community when it opened last December.
Gyro plates and wraps are the top sellers, Bataineh said, followed by the falafel plate.
“A lot of people use canned powders, but we use legitimate garbanzo beans that we soak and grind in-house,” Bataineh said of the falafel, adding that the hummus is made from scratch, too.,
The rice, like many of the menu items, is made with Bataineh’s own secret recipe. Along with using fresh ingredients, his precise spice mixtures are what make the dishes so great, he said. The majority of spices are imported from the Middle East.
Bataineh moved to Germany in 2000. He found a job as a dishwasher at 14 and eventually worked his way up to sous chef of a large restaurant in downtown Berlin. In 2005, he moved to Austin to help manage restaurants owned by family members in the area.
“I’ve always had a passion for food,” he said. “I always watched my mom cook and learned the family recipes. I love feeding people—I love making people happy.”
Bataineh also worked as a busboy at Kasbah Moroccan Lounge, a hookah bar in Austin. Then, he became the manager, and eventually, he bought the place. Bataineh also had his eye on the Leyla’s location for several years, so he was thrilled when it came on the market and a sale was eventually worked out.
“We had just opened, and then, the pandemic came, and I was really fearful,” he said. “But we had lots of takeout and curbside pickup orders, and [we] appreciate [that] the community kept us busy.”
The restaurant is open for dine-in service again, and Bataineh and his wife, Courtney, said it has been successful enough that they are already considering opening additional locations.
“We’re looking to expand seriously, but cautiously,” he said. Leander, Georgetown, Round Rock and Steiner Ranch are all being eyed as locations for a second and even third restaurant.
The fact there are options for everyone makes Leyla’s accessible to the entire community, Courtney said. Along with the beef, lamb and chicken halal dishes, there are numerous vegetarian, vegan and keto diet-friendly options.
“One person can get true, authentic Mediterranean cuisine, while another could get salad, soup, a fried chicken wrap or a Philly cheesesteak,” she said.
The Batainehs said they do hope people unfamiliar with Mediterranean menu items will come learn about the food.
“When we opened the place, we thought about families like ours in Cedar Park and wanted to offer family style meals that would provide enough good, fresh food affordably,” Bataineh said.
Leyla’s Mediterranean Cafe is located at 401 Whitestone Blvd., Cedar Park. It is open daily from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 512-456-7574. www.leylasmediterraneancafecp.com
Leyla's Mediterranean Cafe offers high-quality, affordable meals in Cedar Park
Courtney and Alaa Bataineh opened Leyla's Mediterranean Cafe in December 2019. (Sally Grace Holtgrieve/Community Impact Newspaper)