On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Youssef Nafaa joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss Bella Restaurants Group. Under that umbrella, Nafaa operates Mia Bella Trattoria, Coco's Crepes, and Zoa Moroccan Kitchen, a quick service restaurant that opened this week.
The conversation begins with Nafaa describing his path to Houston, including moving from Morocco to Chicago. After a period of working for other people, he opened Mi Luna in Rice Village. From there, he would go on to open the first Mia Bella in the heart of downtown in 1999. Time in France inspired the decision to open Coco's, and Zoa reflects the street food he eats in Morocco.
Sandler notes that Mia Bella isn't a traditional Italian restaurant, and Nafaa shares the thinking behind his innovative approach that has made the restaurant a staple.
"Our meatballs, instead of regular meatballs, we stuff them with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. We do seafood lasagna with shrimp, salmon, and scallops," he says. "You can play with the food and keep it authentic We still use all Italian ingredients. We stay within the frame of Italian, but we give it a little twist . . . You can have meatballs anywhere; I need to give you something different."
Prior to the interview, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics including Houston's 14 James Beard Award semifinalist nominations; the announcement from the Nancy's Hustle team that they plan to open a pizzeria later this year; and the new Brazilian steakhouse coming to Highland Village this month.
In the restaurants of the week segment, they discuss recent meals at Belly of the Beast, an ambitious new Mexican restaurant in Old Towne Spring, Taqo Mexican Kitchen, a casual taqueria in The Heights, and the recently introduced dinner service at El Topo in West U.