Oasis in the Desert: Casablanca Brings Moroccan Food to Houston

When it opened late last year, Casablanca Couscous & Grill became only the second Moroccan restaurant in Houston. And the truth is, for a city that prides itself on being such a melting pot of ethnicities and cuisines, there is a tremendous amount of food that can't be found here.

I'm not talking about individual food items, like mangosteens or horse meat -- although there is a place in Chinatown that I've been meaning to check out. I'm talking about Senegalese food, or Malaysian food, or even basic Russian food. (A moment of silence for the late, great Russian Bear.)

Sure, you can purchase the groceries for these cuisines and prepare a plate of thiéboudienne at home, but it's not quite the same -- especially if you've never had thiéboudienne before and aren't familiar with how it should taste. You're also missing the crucial element of atmosphere that's found in a great ethnic restaurant, the sense that you're on vacation as you dine, that you're learning something new as you peruse the menu and chat with the waitstaff and chef.

Over two years ago, the great blog Food In Houston had an interesting post on this very subject. In it, Anonymous Eater lamented the lack of Portuguese food, Jewish delis and more, while eager readers chimed in with their own missing plates in the comments section.

Since that time, there have been some significant changes in Houston's food scene, albeit not significant enough -- after all, we now only have two Moroccan restaurants instead of Anonymous Eater's one back in 2009. The Ethiopian scene hasn't exactly thrived, either: One of the restaurants he mentioned is closed, and only one other -- Sheba Cafe -- has opened to take its place. We're still lacking in honest NYC-style delis, although we've had at least one notable addition to the New Mexican category with TQLA.

For last year's Best of Houston® issue, I put together an extensive list of available cuisines in Houston for our cover story, Planet Houston. But in that list -- and in the story, as well -- you'll see glaring omissions. Most of the African continent is dreadfully underrepresented, as is South America save for the dozens of churrascarias that have only cropped up because Texans love their meat -- and love it in large, unending portions.

Myself, I'd love to have a yakitori joint like Yakitori Totto in Houston, or another Puerto Rican restaurant to complement Tex-Chick. I'd love to have a more formal, sit-down Filipino restaurant -- a lack that my friend Dr. Ricky has long-lamented as well -- as well as a more casual, informal Spanish restaurant that serves authentic tapas and doesn't cost a arm and a leg. I'd love to see a Swedish or Nordic restaurant that isn't IKEA, and I'd love to see any Portuguese food at all, anywhere.

But at least we've making progress in the direction of Moroccan food with Casablanca, the subject of this week's cafe review. What cuisines are you missing, readers?

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt