When Tortas Condesa leaves its walk-up window at the end of the month, Taylor Cheney's Arabic popup, Yalla, will settle into the space. Come mid-March, imbibers on Capitol Hill—including those drinking next door at Montana—will have a new, international sandwich to snack on: Middle Eastern saj wraps. Think of it as a pita sandwich, but with the filling rolled into a flatbread both thinner and bigger than pita bread. Those mourning the loss of tortas on Olive Way need not worry: Owner Monica Dimas is moving along to focus on her growing taco and bagel establishments, but her sandwiches will resurface at both Neon Taco and Little Neon Taco.
Cheney, a Seattle Met's Next Hot Chef of 2014, has designed a daily rotating menu to enchant customers with Arabic flavors and prime their stomachs for a night of drinking—this is Capitol Hill, after all. Wrap options include combinations of rich labneh with bright, herby za’atar or spinach doused in olive oil with citrusy sumac and caramelized onion. For carnivores, there's traditionally prepared meats, like hawashi, flavorful Egyptian-style lamb or beef grilled in oil, and musakhan, a traditional Palestinian dish of chicken cooked with sumac-melted onions.
Expect to see an ever-changing cast of Yalla’s biggest hot and cold mezze hits, too, like charred eggplant salad; muhammara, a walnut and red pepper dip sweetened with pomegranate molasses; fool, a spiced, warm Arabic bean dip; and of course, hummus. Cheney's shatta, an Arabic hot sauce made from fermented hot peppers, and Egyptian-style garlicky hot sauce will both be available in spades, as well.
Though it's grown into a wildly popular popup, Yalla had humble origins. Thanks to Saudi Arabian neighbors, Cheney became smitten with Middle Eastern cuisine seven years ago and began cooking it for staff meals when she worked at MistralKitchen. Then, in 2013, Yalla had its first official popup.
Montana cofounder Rachel Marshall (Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Nacho Borracho) and her biz partner Kate Opatz view the walk-up window as a perfect opportunity for up-and-comers in Seattle’s dining scene.“We see it as this really cool kind of incubator-launch pad for people to test a concept and go on to establish their own restaurants elsewhere,” Marshall says. Marshall and Opatz's tenants tend to do well. Malaysian-inspired bistro Kedai Makan eventually decamped to its own Capitol Hill space, and Tortas Condesa owner Monica Dimas has a burgeoning food empire.
“I feel like they’re really encouraging of people who have a passion,” Cheney says. “I’ve always loved everything that’s gone in [the window]." Saj, hummus, and musakhan included.