Mia Bella Owner Debuts New Casual Moroccan Restaurant in Houston — Updated
Bella Restaurants Group chef and owner Youssef Nafaa is opening a brand-new restaurant called ZOA Moroccan Kitchen at 4710 Lillian just off of Washington Avenue. Bella Restaurants owns and operates Mia Bella Trattoria, Coco Crepes, Waffles & Coffee and Andalucia Tapas Restaurant & Bar.
Zoa Moroccan offers primarily counter and takeout service, although there is a small dining area. Via press release, Nafaa says it is only the first of a “series of international fast-casual dining restaurants, all carrying the signature name, ZOA.” The first of these promises reasonably priced dishes made with locally sourced or organic ingredients and fast service.
The dishes echo the street foods that Naffa grew up with. “I started with ZOA Moroccan because it is the food of my childhood— the food my grandmother and mother cooked and what my brothers and I ate on the streets on my way from our farm to school every day.” These include Moroccan sandwiches, including a breakfast sandwich called the Yalla. “Yalla is a very popular term in Morocco. It means to hurry and since most of what we do here is fast, I figured it made sense.” With a price tag of only $4, it includes two eggs, cheese and harissa on a Moroccan pita. For only a dollar more, diners can add merguez, a fresh sausage traditionally made with lamb or beef.
There are also create-your-own bowl options. The foundations of these can be Moroccan pita, couscous, gluten-friendly Saffron Jasmine Rice, lentils, white beans or mixed greens. Diners can then top with a variety of meaty or meatless toppings: beef tagine, lamb meshwi (skewer-roasted lamb), shrimp, kefta (spicy beef meatballs) or a potato cake. The crowning touches are a variety of toppings, such as egg-potato salad, olives or feta cheese, and sauces like red harissa (extra spicy), lemon olive oil or garlic aioli, just to name a few. The full list of ingredient choices is available online. To drink alongside, Zoa serves specialty coffees, teas and smoothies.
Nafaa says he’s aiming for a socially conscious aspect for Zoa as well, saying he plans to support local non-profit organizations with food and monetary donations. For exceptional employees, he’s also planning to offer a management-to-ownership program which allows them the chance to one day be partners in their own ZOA stores. “I just want to give the people who work hard a chance to truly experience the American dream. Working all those years in the kitchen made me want to offer ownership to the next generation,” he said.
Zoa Moroccan Kitchen’s regular hours are from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.
Updated 3/10/19, 8:48 a.m. to remove expired grand opening promotion.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.