A veteran Houston chef is bringing the flavors of his homeland to Washington Avenue. Youssef Nafaa, CEO of Bella Restaurants Group (Mia Bella, Coco’s Crepes) opens Zoa Moroccan Kitchen (4710 Lillian St.) on Tuesday, March 3.
“I’ve opened so many places in the past 25 years,” Nafaa tells CultureMap. “There’s no Moroccan restaurants anywhere [in Houston], but if you go to Europe, it’s huge. I just thought it was the right time.”
The fast-casual restaurant offers diners a mix of Moroccan flavors in the form of bowls or sandwiches. Diners can opt to assemble their own, Chipotle style, or go for a preset mix of ingredients.
Zoa’s proteins, which include beef, chicken, and lamb, are all halal. They’re paired with a wide array of vegetables, including roasted root vegetables, confit onions, feta cheese, and cucumber-tomato salad. To finish, diners may opt for any of seven sauces such as harissa, mint-avocado yogurt, or garlic aioli.
As an example, Nafaa assembles a simple sandwich of beef tagine, confit onions, and spicy green harissa. Alternatively, a diner could make a simple meatball sandwich with the restaurant’s kefta and its tomato chermoula sauce.
Bowls start with a base of couscous, saffron-jasmine rice, lentils, or mixed greens. Employees are encouraged to assemble the colorful ingredients in a way that will connect with Instagram-obsessed diners.
At breakfast, the menu features sandwiches made with baked eggs and Moroccan-style pancakes served with honey and butter. Merguez sausage and lamb bacon are optional add-ons.
“The idea of all of this is simplicity with good flavors,” Nafaa says. “Any bite you have will not be boring.”
The restaurant focuses on grab-and-go dining. Its small space doesn’t offer any indoor seating, just a short counter where diners can eat standing up. A patio with tables will be available for sit-down dining in nice weather.
Naffa is no stranger to multi-unit restaurants. Houston has three Mia Bellas and six Coco’s Crepes. He’s already thinking about how to grow Zoa.
“[People are] looking for food they can trust,” Nafaa says. “That’s important. I’m not cutting any corners in quality or authenticity.”
To celebrate its grand opening, Zoa will give away free sandwiches or bowls from 11 am - 1 pm on Tuesday, March 3.