Shahrazad: Halal? Is It Meat You’re Looking For?
Shahrazad Restaurant and Market
Open 9 a.m.–8 p.m.
1615 W. 2100 S.
I first developed a love of Middle Eastern food on the streets of Paris in the 1990s. The post-war migration of people from France’s former colonies in North Africa resulted in a French capital city ever increasing in diversity. Arab sandwich restaurants and halal butcher shops became commonplace in certain neighborhoods—as did a spicy pepper paste called harissa. The piquant condiment was as ubiquitous then as sriracha sauce is now. Interestingly enough, it was my search for harissa that originally led me to Shahrazad. I had heard that the market was a good source for goat cheese, yogurt, fruit and vegetable spreads, and exotic spices of the whole, crushed, pickled and ground varieties. As it turns out, all this was true. In addition to finding my steady local source for harissa, I also discovered that there was a meat shop and restaurant at the back of the store. I needed to come back hungry.
The Shahrazad restaurant offers a selection of many Middle Eastern dishes. As my date and I looked over the menu, the server brought us yogurt salad and hummus with some fresh pita bread. The creamy hummus was especially good: savory, mild and perfect for dipping bread. We would have to order more, but we also wanted to explore the meat-centric part of the menu. The restaurant offers several meat-skewer options that go straight from their butcher case to the grill. Wanting to maximize our possibilities, we went for the Shahrazad Special ($16.99). This platter consists of three skewers: grilled steak, chicken breast and seasoned ground beef. It comes with a charred tomato, sliced onions and peppers, a bed of buttery rice and a side salad. You can also add soup or tabbouleh for an additional $3.99. The platter was generously portioned and absolutely phenomenal. The steak was tender and succulent, and the chicken was spicy and robust. The ground beef skewer was the most meticulously seasoned of the three, and was what separated this meal from what you might find at a Greek restaurant. The platter could easily be shared by a small group of people, and it is a great option for those wanting to sample several meats in one visit. For those hoping for a smaller or less expensive option, the three skewers are also available separately. The chicken Sheesh Tawouk platter will run you $8.99, and the Sheesh Steak sells for $10.99. The ground meat Sheesh Kabab is $7.99 and can be made with either ground beef or chicken. Rounding out the meat options are skewers made with lamb, goat or salmon as well as a whole, grilled tilapia. For those with less adventurous dinner dates, the restaurant also has halal cheeseburgers and fries. For the daring, most dishes can be made spicier upon request.
Having thoroughly picked apart the meat choices, we felt the need to delve into the less carnivorous side of the menu. For those looking for a more vegetarian-friendly option, many of the appetizers fall into this category. Wanting once again to maximize our possibilities, we ordered the Vegetarian Sampler ($10.99). This appetizer platter consisted of separate bowls of baba ghanouj, hummus and tabbouleh, a plate of stuffed grape leaves and an order of falafel with tahineh sauce. I expected to like certain items more than others, but was pleased to discover that everything was remarkable. The baba ghanouj, made from slowly roasting eggplant in the skin, was delightfully smoky and smooth. I am normally not a big fan of eggplant, but this is by far my favorite preparation. Along with the hummus, it was perfect for dipping bread and vegetables, or for simply eating by the spoonful. The stuffed grape leaves were creamy, savory and light. The falafel—the one fried item of the bunch—was fragrantly seasoned with the right amount of crunch. The freshness of the tabbouleh cut some of the richness of the other dishes. It was light on the cracked wheat and strong on the lemon juice and parsley. It was exactly what the sampler plate needed to feel light and balanced. For those wanting to try fewer of the appetizer items, they range in individual price from $3.49 to $5.49. If you are not up to getting the whole sampler platter, try whatever combination you think sounds good together. There is no bad combination.
I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what Shahrazad has to offer. I still need to try the lamb and the goat—the word on the street is that they are among the best in the valley. Honestly, I could eat there every day and feel completely happy never straying from the chicken skewers and hummus. On the market side of things, I know I have found a quality source for locally sourced halal meat. They also sell hookahs, exotic tobacco products and grocery products from places like Turkey, Pakistan, Somalia, India and Persia. Many of these products, like the Armenian string cheese and eggplant caviar, are challenging to find anywhere in the United States. As for the restaurant, the food is flavorful, the portions are generous, and the quality will keep you coming back. It is the perfect spot to enjoy exotic Middle Eastern food without breaking your budget.