Longtime friends Jose Ignacio Garcia, 25, and Jose Pablo De Leon, 24, met while attending school in their hometown of Guatemala City. When they relocated to the United States, Garcia made his way to Boston to finish school, while De Leon wrapped up at Florida International University. As graduation approached, both kept in close contact with plans to start their own business rather than ever collect a paycheck.
Such is how Taula Fresh Mediterranean Food came to open on the ground floor of the Filling Station Lofts in May. The concept is a Chipotle-style setup that hinges on the olive oil, lemon, yogurt, harissa, and sumac-heavy cuisine that has pervaded the city in both dressed-up and more casual fashions over the past few years. Byblos, Laffa, and Cleo represent the higher end of the market, while downtown's Clove, Sam Gorenstein's Zuuk, and Michael Solomonov's forthcoming hummus spot Dizengoff are gentler on the wallet.
Taula follows the system that allows you to build a meal from the ground up. Start with either a bowl ($8.25) or fluffy, flaky house-made laffa bread ($8.25) that comes off the griddle freckled with char. Add to it some cauliflower rice (the starchy real deal), couscous, or veggie rice. De Leon also adds in crisp potato wedges. Follow it with your choice of three protein options that all rotate on spits behind the counter. The kitchen debones whole chickens and marinates them in a combination of smoked paprika, yogurt, and lime juice that keeps the shreds of flesh moist. The beef shawarma first takes a dip in a bath of red wine vinegar, coriander, oregano, paprika, and tomato juice before making the hot dance.
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The condiments here are as classic and straightforward as can be. A parsley-heavy tabbouleh, pickled red cabbage, and sliced radishes make for a fine choice. When it comes to sauce, heed the warning of the harissa's spice, but don't let it scare you. Just temper it with some velvety hummus and turmeric garlic sauce and you'll be fine.
One of the most alluring parts of Taula is its almost ascetic simplicity. You're not overloaded with choices, and thus the bowls are a bit budget-friendlier — a couple of quarters below Zuuk's prices and well below Clove's $11 bowls.
Of course, it seems doughnut fiends will always outnumber those looking for some juicy grilled chicken and grassy tabbouleh. But, hey, one step at a time, right?
Taula Fresh Mediterranean Food
1657 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-536-4846; taulafresh.com. Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.