Taza 21 was a long time in coming for Frank and Silva Abraham. They had their eye on the little central Squirrel Hill location for 20 years. Two months ago, the Murray Avenue storefront became available and the couple opened a small Middle Eastern take-out eatery. The cheery interior is painted bright red and orange, and features an open kitchen and three tables.
Taza (the Arabic word for "fresh") is subtitled "A Shawarma Café," primarily because the Abrahams wanted to showcase their signature dish. Shawarma is a common fast-food staple across the Middle East. Similar to a gyro, shawarma is seasoned meat molded around a spit and roasted, then shaved and rolled into flat bread with various toppings, including parsley, onion, pickles and tahini sauce.
The Abrahams, who once owned a restaurant in their homeland of Syria, set out to offer their own brand of shawarma. They purchased two large, rotating vertical spits that slow-roast large towers of meat that look like kabobs on steroids. The meat -- beef or chicken -- is seasoned with spices ordered from Syria.
Many Middle Eastern restaurants cut up the meat and keep it warm in the oven, where it can dry out, says Silva. At Taza 21, the meat is sliced per order directly from the rotating skewer so it remains hot and moist.
"One woman said it's the best [shawarma] she's ever had,"claims Frank, who looks a little bit like Robert Goulet.
Besides shawarma, the Abrahams offer a variety of meat and vegetarian wraps, and other Middle Eastern dishes. Silva says their sleek -- made with kale, black-eyed peas and cracked bulgur wheat -- is particularly popular. They also offer salads, rolled pizzas and all sorts of freshly squeezed juices, smoothies and ayran (a yogurt drink with salt and garlic).
Silva stresses the couple's commitment to serving healthy fast-food options. Of all their fare, only the falafel is fried, and it is never pre-fried and reheated.
"I make yogurt every night. I squeeze all the juices right in front of the customers," Silvia says, adding with laughter: "We want to fill you with nothing but good stuff."
1827 Murray Ave.