Taza 21 offers Middle Eastern cuisine, warm atmosphere

Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/ Credit: Su Baykal/

While Chinese and Japanese dining choices have made their way into campus eateries, the spicy, aromatic charms of kebabs, döner, and other Middle Eastern fare cannot easily be found in or around Carnegie Mellon. Taza 21 — a small, welcoming Middle Eastern restaurant in Squirrel Hill — proves to be capable of satisfying any desires for this sort of food, while only being a short trip away on any 61 bus.

While "Taza" means "fresh" in Arabic, one would more easily imagine it to mean "home" or "friendly dwelling." Upon first entering Taza 21, you are warmly greeted by the owners, who are husband and wife, briskly working in the visible kitchen located in the front of the restaurant. A small glass display case holds snacks like hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and tabbouleh — a tangy salad made of quinoa-like grains, parsley, tomatoes, onion, and an abundant amount of lemon juice.

Other choices hang on the wall in an almost overwhelmingly long menu, offering classic wraps like shawarma and falafel, but also more exotic ones, displaying intriguing names such as mujaddara and makloubeh.

The owners of Taza 21 seem to be genuinely concerned with each client’s comfort and satisfaction. It is not uncommon to be asked if you want some more while finishing off the last bits of a wrap or its accompanying yogurt-cucumber sauce. A late-night visit may even reward you with a few pieces of homemade beef pie, “because [they're] closing anyway.”

The food in itself perfectly reflects the attention that Taza 21's owners are so willing to provide to clients. Slightly toasted wraps boast fresh produce, well-paired flavors, and satisfying portions. The chicken shawarma wrap (also available with lamb meat) consists of smoky, grilled chunks of chicken, a creamy hummus sauce, tomato, parsley, and sour pickles to cut through the sauce’s consistency.

The only criticism that could be made is that it doesn't stick to traditional techniques. Shawarma is typically characterized by paper-thin shavings of lamb, beef or chicken meat rotating on a vertical spit, stuffed either into pita bread or wrapped in flatbread with onions, tomatoes, and other components — but these may vary according to the country of origin. The shawarma at Taza 21, however, contained chicken in chunks, even though it came from a spit. While not conforming to tradition, this technical problem did not affect the overall flavor of the wrap.

The vegetarian choices are just as satisfying. The mujaddara, a smooth mixture of lentils, rice, and sautéed onions, is stuffed in a toasted flatbread with crunchy shreds of lettuce and chunks of tomato. Indeed, vegetarian options such as the mujaddara and falafel provide vegetarian diners with an experience as satisfying as that of a classic shawarma.

While not exactly in walking distance, Taza 21 has everything needed to provide students with an enjoyable dining experience. While its Middle Eastern fare seems to come from a place far away, the warmth and welcoming attitude of the restaurant’s owners make customers feel at home once again, wherever that home may be.

Taza 21 is located at 1821 Murray Avenue.