Approaching and entering Zoa Moroccan Kitchen is a surreal experience, almost like being whisked away to market in Fez or Rabat, Morocco.
A patio with flower pots hanging overhead and a mix of modern wooden accents, brightly-colored murals and a corner table next to the window with iconic blue tiles give off both contemporary and classic vibes.
And that’s exactly what Bella Restaurants Group CEO Youssef Nafaa has done with the Zoa menu as well.
Nafaa brought Zoa to the Washington Avenue corridor in March of last year, giving Houstonians a chance to experience dishes from his country of origin. His AZON Culinary Works is also housed in the same building.
All of its sandwiches are named after Moroccan cities, and all are $8. All of the meat served at Zoa is halal.
The Casablanca is made with lamb meshwi (skewers), cucumber, tomato, pickled red onion cabbage, white beans and garlic aioli. It is served with tactouka, a Moroccan salad with red and green peppers, tomatoes and olives.
The Rabat, a vegetarian option, is centered around a potato cake and contains fava bean hummus, cucumber, tomatoes roasted in chermoula (a blend of olive oil and spices like coriander and cumin) and harissa aioli. It also comes with zaalouk, a Moroccan eggplant salad.
The Tangier uses shrimp, cucumber, tomato, greens, pickled red onion cabbage, tomato chermoula, cinnamon-roasted carrots and avocado yogurt speckled with mint zest.
The Kentira contains beef kefta (meatballs), cucumber, tomato, pickled red onion cabbage, tomato chermoula and red harissa, a Tunisian hot chili pepper paste.
The sandwiches are all available as bowls, which is how I ordered the Marrakesh from Zoa.
The Marrakesh features beef tagine, onions, greens, pickled cabbage and red onion, sweet potato and a house-made spicy green harissa.
The beef tagine was juicy and full of spices found in “ras el hanout”, Arabic for “top of shelf.” Cumin, coriander, allspice, ginger and saffron all converged to make a spicy marinade.
I also appreciated the sweet potatoes and the pickled cabbage and red onions, giving a sweet and sour balance to the meal.
You can also customize your own bowl or sandwich choosing from the proteins referenced above and choose from the following options as bases: A Moroccan Pita, couscous, lentils, white beans, saffron rice, mixed greens or a combination of brown rice, quinoa and fresh mint.
Zoa has several vegetarian and gluten-free toppings and sauces to add as well, like a garbanzo bean salad, roasted and shredded beets, garlic aioli and lemon-infused olive oil.
The “Zoa After Dark” menu allows guests to choose two entrees (either a bowl or sandwich), two sides, two pastries and two drinks for $25 between 7-9 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Brunch at Zoa is served from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Zoa Moroccan Kitchen
Address: 4710 Lillian St.
Dining Options: Dine-in, pickup
Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Entrée prices: $8-$10
Senior discount: No
Healthy options: Kale salad with tofu ($10)
Star of the show: Marrakesh (beef tagine)