There’s so much to love about the retail and restaurant strip on North Loop along the edge of Hyde Park, but Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine stands out as a favorite neighborhood destination for several reasons. Phara’s authentic menu features a multicultural fusion of middle eastern flavors, there’s live music and belly dancing almost every night, and a large courtyard accommodates outdoor seating and a hookah lounge, which offers a variety of shisha. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, reflecting the temperament of its namesake, Jeanette Friedman, known by everyone as Phara.
Phara had never worked in a restaurant, much less owned one, when she decided to become a restaurateur. After a career in social work, she became a full-time belly dancer. When she and her husband moved to Austin, she started dancing at Ararat, the middle eastern restaurant that used to operate in the space now occupied by Phara’s. Then tragedy struck. Phara’s son, Christopher, who had been born with cystic fibrosis, died in 2004. “I was inspired to open this restaurant when I lost Christopher,” Phara says. “He had an astounding ability to give. He took very good care of his friends, and he taught me a lot about giving. I needed to do something, give back, and also stay busy, so I thought, ‘I’ll open a restaurant.’”
Phara expressed interest in Ararat when it closed in 2007, and after much wrangling and renovating, Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine was opened in the spring of 2008. Phara learned everything she needed to know about running a restaurant over time, and credits her staff for helping her make Phara’s the success it has become. “We are like family. We come together and make this place what it is. It’s really special,” she says. Among the staff is an Iraqi chef, an Indian chef, belly dancers from Lebanon, Russia, and Brazil, as well as professional musicians from around the world.
Dining at Phara’s is a truly multicultural experience unlike any other in Austin. “It’s been described as magical, unique, evocative,” Phara says. “I just want people to feel relaxed here. When you come here, your table is yours for the night. We don’t focus on turning tables here. We want you to enjoy your dinner at your pace, in your time. And we serve full meals up until midnight. If you are here before midnight, we want you to order whatever you like and enjoy your meal without rushing. The kitchen closes at midnight, but customers are invited to stay until 1:30. I’ll be here until then, anyway!”
Phara also offers Christopher’s Casbah, the space adjoining Phara’s, to those looking to hold a party or other special event, free of charge. “I don’t charge a fee for the room. As long as they pay for the food, the space is available to customers wanting it.”
A beautiful black and white photograph of Christopher hangs above the corner table that is always reserved for Phara. “I’m here every day. I love being here. I love my special customers. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I’d like to thank them for being here. I was inspired to open the restaurant because of Christopher’s death, and fulfillment has happened. I just want to do good for people, and that keeps me going.” Among the good things she is able to do because of the restaurant is fundraise for cystic fibrosis and anyone needing help due to a medical condition. Phara says, “I’ll seek out a special person who has a medical need and fundraise for them. I’ll take 100% of the proceeds of one day, and give that to the person who needs assistance. I do this for Christopher.”
Visit Phara’s Mediterranean Cuisine at 111 North Loop Blvd. E, 512-632-7067 or www.pharas.com today.
—Story and photo by Ann Guidry