I like walking into a restaurant and asking this question, “Is that house made?”
I like it even more when the answer is, “Yes, it is.”
Leila’s Deli, a small, new cafe located steps away from the Tacoma Dome in the downstairs space below Crystal Voyage, is one of those restaurants that employs someone in the kitchen who cares about food. Or, more accurately, about the quality of food. The meats on the sandwich are Boar’s Head. They offer gluten free baked goods made by Granny Lala’s.
A place like Leila’s that bothers to make its own coleslaw, potato salad, soups and dressings is the sort of place where I want to spend my dwindling dining dollars.
The lunch menu is built around grilled panini sandwiches, but there are enough supplemental items, including the aforementioned homemade salads and soups, to cause me to return to Leila’s for lunch again and again. Did I mention the salad bar? That’s an unusual offering. Produce is fickle and spoils quickly, it’s expensive to stock a salad bar. I’m always appreciative when I see one, especially one laden with house-made salads crafted fresh every day.
The grilled sandwiches are built on ciabatta rolls or thick, chewy bread that crisps up nicely in the panini press. There is a list of specialty sandwiches, but you can build your own, too. Sandwiches are $7.50 each and come with a side of the house-made slaw or potato salad. Add a cup or bowl of soup or chili for $3-$4.
The New York panini was a saucy number with blue cheese dressing spilling out both sides of the chewy ciabatta roll that was lightly griddled by the sandwich press. Sliced chicken breast held just a tease of buffalo hot sauce around the outer edges (it wasn’t spicy at all). A tangle of caramelized sweet onions added a subtle sweetness that contrasted nicely with the peppery bite of arugula. I appreciated that the flavors were assertive, but not muddled.
A Reuben and a French dip sandwich both sounded hearty and just right for a cold afternoon, but the deli was out of both, even though it was barely into the noon hour on our visit. That boxed us into an ordering corner, so we went with our B-team choice: a turkey Bella panini served on airy bread with a heavy helping of sundried tomatoes and a generous layer of pesto (one of few things not house made at Leila’s). An impressive three layers deep of sliced turkey breast made the sandwich a generous size. Mozzarella made an acceptable substitute for the Swiss they also were out of.
Soups range from chill to a daily special. On our visit, navy bean was the offering. The soup itself was a bit watery, but the flavor was thick. Bobbing in the broth were large chunks of Black Forest ham swimming with bits of carrots, onions, celery and creamy navy beans.
The deli is small and cute with order-at-the-counter service. High-top tables flank the airy windows. Parking can be tricky on event days. Grab-and-go food is offered in the deli case.
Where: 402 E. 26th St., Tacoma
Info: 253-627-8213 or www.tacomadeli.com