Yalla Yalla! ZOA Moroccan Kitchen

Camryn Davis

ZOA Moroccan Kitchen tucked away in the heart of Rice Military is the newest brainchild from Houston’s Chef Youssef Nafaa focused on Moroccan street food. Nafaa, who’s known for local chains such as CoCo Crepes and Mia Bella Trattoria, emigrated from Morocco when he was 21 and brought his country’s cuisine with him. In creating ZOA, Nafaa aimed to make vibrant culturally authentic food for the fast-food fanatic and the foodie alike. ZOA is the perfect modern and fast introduction to Moroccan food between its Chipotle-serving style and casually cool atmosphere.

Everything you see in ZOA is reminiscent of the streets of Marrakech. From the Majorelle Blue walls to the Sevilla tile floors, ZOA’s atmosphere is beautifully unique. This love and attention to detail aren’t just seen in the restaurant’s decor; you can taste it in every bite of their ingredients.

Let’s start with the set menu. There are six menu combinations available as either a bowl or a pita, with one hand-crafted option for each protein. The Rabat, ZOA’s vegetarian fave, is my personal top pick. If you’ve never had zaalouk, I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a delicious dip made from eggplant, tomato, paprika, and crushed red pepper, and it’s truly the star of the Rabat. It mixes with the potato cakes so beautifully, and it’s just… chef kiss. Other handpicked options include the Casablanca, starring the lamb meshwi and fabulous red harissa, and the Marrakesh, with beef tagine and the in-house spicy green ZOA sauce made with jalapeno and yogurt. If you’re unfamiliar with Moroccan food, I’d definitely suggest you go with one of these options the first time you go to ZOA; after you try the food, it definitely won’t be your last time there, so you can always build your own the next time!

So, you’ve already tried one of ZOA’s faves and you’re ready to level up; it’s time to build your own! I’m sure we’re all familiar with the “build your own” style restaurant thanks to restaurants like Chipotle and Cava, and ZOA falls perfectly into this category as well. It’s a great way to feel familiar with flavors that might be unfamiliar! ZOA’s options are all incredibly tempting. Maybe you’re in the mood for something sandwich adjacent; the pita base has your back. Or maybe you want something a little lighter: start with the greens instead! For those who want a heftier bowl, the couscous or saffron rice are perfect options.

Likewise, there’s a protein option for every person. The standout protein, though, is the lamb meshwi. There’s nothing quite like slow-roasted leg of lamb shoulder marinated in garlic, saffron, and turmeric.

Okay, let’s talk about the dips and toppings. It’s so hard not to get every single topping on your bowl, everything’s so tempting. There are traditional toppings, like feta cheese, sweet potato, pickled red onions, and hummus. Some more unique toppings include the cinnamon carrots (which is exactly what it sounds like), tactouka (a delicious blend of roasted peppers and tomatoes), and the already mentioned and loved zaalouk. The best part is that every single dip /topping is vegetarian AND gluten-free!

Top off your lovely bowl or pita with some of their signature sauces. In the mood for something spicy? Try some red harissa or harissa aioli. Looking for something a little refreshing? The zesty mint avocado yogurt’s your guy. Other awesome options include the tomato chermoula, a tomato sauce with notes of minced garlic and cumin, and a light lemon olive oil.

We’ve made our way to the end of the line! The party doesn’t stop here, though. Why not pick up ZOA’s bottled in-house lemonade or sweet Moroccan jasmine green tea to compliment your bowl? If you’re craving something sweet, try the Moroccan pancakes topped with either some Honey Butter or Nutella. They’re light and fluffy and an awesome way to end a ZOA trip.

ZOA is the perfect lunch spot if you’re in the mood to switch things up. It’s affordable, fast, and insanely good! With a front porch and a side patio, ZOA’s outdoor seating makes it a great option to stay covid-conscious while enjoying a great meal!

To enjoy $5 off a $20 plus purchase at ZOA Moroccan Kitchen, use promo code TEXAS01 when ordering through the ZOA website, zoamoroccan.com.

Find ZOA Moroccan Kitchen at 4710 Lillian Street, Houston, TX 77007, on Facebook, Instagram, and their website.