A Local's Guide to Iran

·4 min read

Mehrdad Mzadeh is creative director and cofounder of Studio Shizaru, the Tehran- and L.A.-based design practice behind some of Tehran’s hippest spaces—incorporating Iran’s ancient aesthetics in fresh, contemporary ways.

This interview is part of The World Made Local, a global collaboration between the seven international editions of Condé Nast Traveler in which 100 people in 100 countries tell us why their home turf should be your next destination.

How would you describe Tehran?

Tehran has a masculine soul, like New York—it’s hard to explain without experiencing it, but the roughness, hustle and bustle, loudness, brutal architecture, and mountain ranges of Tehran feel “masculine” to me. Tehran smells like smoke; at the same time, it smells like tea and saffron, if you’re a romantic! Passing by the old houses, I imagine typical, loving, traditional Iranian moms making tea for their families after a long and busy day in the streets of Tehran, calming them down with delicious, warm food.

Tell us about your connection to Tehran. How does what you do at Studio Shizaru fit into the current narrative of Iran?

Shizaru is a small design studio, and our relationship with our cities, Tehran and Los Angeles, is like that of an adventurous chef: We source local ingredients from our cities and present them as contemporary dishes. We love to be connected to the world and speak in an international language that everyone understands, but we don’t hide our accent.

Mehrdad Mzadeh
Mehrdad Mzadeh
Alephmim Creative Studio

If a friend was visiting Tehran and had just 24 hours there, what would you tell them to do?

Tehran is big, and I won’t recommend just spending 24 hours in it—mainly because you’d be stuck in traffic for a big chunk of those 24 hours! But if you’re really pressed for time…

Check into Hanna Boutique Hotel, then start exploring downtown Tehran on foot after breakfast. Start from 30 Tir Street, getting lost in the old alleys and peeking into houses that might have left their door open. There is a museum and some heritage houses in the area that go back about 200 years. As it gets to lunchtime, make your way toward Gol-e Rezaeieh or Café Naderi, two old restaurants in the area. I won’t promise Michelin-star meals, but I can guarantee a trip down memory lane: They’ll give you a sense of how things looked for those intellectual groups of friends and political activists that used to eat and hang out in these places. If you want to feel like you have gone for a stroll in ancient Iran, have dinner at Boomi Restaurant. It’s an experience right out of Shahnameh [The Book of Kings] and serves modern, fusion Iranian food.

What should we see beyond the usual tourist sites?

Shahr-e-Rey [City of Rey], an hour south of Tehran, is one of the oldest cities in the world—and even Tehranis don’t know much about it. It’s full of historical sites and gives you a chance to see the architecture of Old Tehran. Have a stroll through a city that’s been through so many things over the past 8,000 years!

What excites you about Tehran right now?

The most exciting thing about Tehran for me is seeing the “new” Tehran being built by the young people in the city. Without any support, this generation is building great experiences for international visitors. From cafés to artisanal handicraft shops to boutique hotels, there are unique spots popping up all around the city. This makes me feel like Tehran is going through a revolution, driven by its creative, young generation, and it keeps me going.

Where do you return to again and again?

I spend hours strolling around downtown Tehran, visiting shops and speaking to the shopkeepers who haven’t changed in 70 years! I fake it as a customer and really love the experience. I immerse myself and get lost in the alleys, and observe the contrast between the old and the new. It’s a source of inspiration for me and helps me with creative projects that I’m doing or planning to do. I also go to the mountains in Northern Tehran. It’s therapeutic and the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Follow Mehrdad Mzadeh on Instagram @mehrdadmzadeh

Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler