While "casual" is still the operative word, an upscale ambiance and polished decor reflect Taza's newfound maturity. Done up in a tasty palette of cinnamon and spice, the 110-seat room feels warm and intimate, but thoroughly relaxed, with mirrors, granite, and iridescent tilework adding a fillip of contemporary sparkle. In a rear corner behind a glass partition, lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs sizzle over a charcoal fire; behind them, a beehive oven turns out loaves of tender pita.
That pita arrives at the table with a passel of kalamata olives, a dollop of thick yogurt, and olive oil topped with toasted sesame seeds and herbs (za'atar), as a warm-up to the menu's large selection of traditional mezza. Meant for sharing around the table, the hors d'oeuvre-like options include hummus, baba, and stuffed grape leaves, as well as less familiar possibilities like makanek, a trio of lush little cinnamon-scented sausages, bathed in lemon-pomegranate sauce and garnished with toasted pine nuts and fresh parsley.
There's also a plentiful supply of soups, salads, rolled sandwiches, and grilled meats and fish to choose from; entrées top out at $11 at lunch and $17 at dinner. Taza (28601 Chagrin Boulevard, 216-464-4000) is open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Reservations are not accepted.
Lost Barras . . . The former Las Barras in Avon Lake has changed names to Tequila Blues, the better to reflect its "bar-and-bands" persona. Chef-owner Ryan Rieth made the switch on December 14, after closing the spot briefly for remodeling.
The hiatus also gave him time to add a few Cajun-style dishes, like po' boy sandwiches and pasta in spicy cream sauce, to his repertoire of mostly Tex-Mex fare. Check it out at 445 Avon-Belden Road (440-933-5020) in The Landings shopping center. For those who crave a soundtrack to their dining, there's live music Thursdays through Saturdays.