The Tangier Bowl at ZOA is built with shrimp, pickled red onion cabbage, greens, cinnamon-scented carrots, cucumber, tomato, tomato chermoula, and a zesty mint avocado yogurt sauce. (Photo by ZOA's Shawn Chippendale)
ZOA owner Youssef Nafaa, is originally from Morocco. He created ZOA restaurant as a tribute to his native country, with many of the dishes inspired by his mother Fatima's recipes. (Photo by Dylan McEwan)
Inside the new Richmond Avenue location of ZOA Moroccan Kitchen, built next door to Bella Restaurant's other concept, Coco Crepes and Coffee. (Photo by Photos by ZOA's Shawn Chippendale)
Sweet endings include a Moroccan almond and peanut cookie, one that happens to also be gluten-free. (Photo by Photos by ZOA's Shawn Chippendale)
ZOA's Casablanca Sandwich is layered with lamb meshwi, taktouka, cucumber, tomato, white beans, pickled red onion cabbage and drizzled with a garlic aioli sauce. (Photo by ZOA's Shawn Chippendale)
ZOA's Marrakesh Bowl is composed of beef tagine, onions, greens, pickled red onion cabbage, sweet potato, and green harissa. (Photo by Shawn Chippendale)
Seasoned chef and restauranteur Youssef Nafaa is the CEO of Bella Restaurant Group, the creator of the Italian restaurant Mia Bella and the French-inspired creperie Coco Crepes and Coffee. Now Nafaa has opened the most prominent outpost of a fast casual restaurant that’s especially close to his heart. Say hello to ZOA Moroccan Kitchen on Richmond Avenue in Upper Kirby.
Given that Nafaa was born in Morocco, the food here is as authentic as it gets. With ZOA an acronym for his three son’s names (Zach, Omar and Adam), this chef-driven restaurant idea was actually created during the pandemic in a space adjacent to their commissary just off Washington Avenue. But it had been an idea Nafaa was toying with for 15 years.
Collaborating with head chef Frankie Zabala and his late mother Fatima Zeggaf, the food at ZOA is prepared daily without preservatives or additives. The proteins are richly flavored thanks to a three to five-day marinade where the chicken, lamb and beef are vacuum sealed to allow the ingredients to penetrate deep within its fibers before each is cooked onsite at one of the three ZOA locations.
“I used to speak to my mother daily in Morocco when I was working on this concept,” Nafaa recalls. “I would call as we were developing the menu and run recipe ideas by her. She was an amazing cook.”
This third ZOA restaurant continues Nafaa’s most personal project.
“We are so excited to open the third Houston-area location of ZOA Moroccan Kitchen,” he says. “In traditional Moroccan households like the one I grew up in, small dishes are served and passed along the table around one main course. At ZOA, the traditional table is in your bowl or sandwich. It’s a modern Moroccan dining adventure.”
Built with a healthy, accessibly priced menu with gluten-free, vegetarian and halal meat options, you can choose to create your own bowl or stuffed bread entree or select one of the ZOA Faves, pre-conceived combinations. Which, in my opinion, is always a good idea.
Diving Into the ZOA Menu
Regardless of which way you go, here’s the drill. First you pick your base: a Moroccan-style pita, saffron rice, couscous, greens, or quinoa brown rice. Then, if you haven’t selected one of the six curated bowls or breads, you choose your protein. That’d be beef tagine, lamb meshwi, chicken chermoula, kefta, shrimp, or potato cake. Next pick up to four toppings which brings more than 20 options like turmeric roasted cauliflower, fava bean hummus, sweet potato taktouka and lemon and garlic scented spinach. Finally, crown it all with a sauce like a zesty mint avocado yogurt, garlic aioli or seven others and your meal is complete.
Prices start at $8.95 for the Kenitra sandwich made with beef kefta and rise to $12.95 for the shrimp-spiked Tangier bowl.
For those who haven’t traveled to this exotic, beautiful country in the Mediterranean, Nafaa provides a helpful glossary of sorts on the flip side of the ZOA menu to take one through the varied ingredients and cooking preparations you’ll find. With seats for 20 diners in the 1,200-square-foot space (complete with a 400-square-foot patio). This new ZOA restaurant adjoins Bella’s creperie Coco Crepes and Coffee just next door.
Working with Amy Vonderau of Amy Vonderau Interiors they’ve cleverly knit traditional Moroccan elements through ZOA’s bright decor, from patterned Moroccan tiles to a mural wall depicting a typical Marrakesh street scene to pretty lanterns, tagines and mirrors too. Yes, this new ZOA is a distinct place.
ZOA Moroccan Kitchen is located at 3303 Richmond Avenue. It is open 10:30 am through 9 pm seven days a week.