The street food of Egypt arrives in fast-casual form in New York City today, courtesy a popular Cairo-based chain.
Zooba, now open in Nolita at 100 Kenmare Street at Cleveland Place, focuses on ta’ameya, a patty similar to falafel but made with fava beans instead of chickpeas. It comes in a classic flavor, as well as spicy pepper and pickled lemon ones. All can be stuffed into pita-like baladi bread. There’s also koshari, a hearty bowl of lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, rice, and crispy fried onions topped with garlic vinegar and spiced tomato sauce, as well as hawawshi, or beef patties in various bowls. The menu is in full below, with the most expensive item coming in at $11.50.
Zooba was founded in Egypt in 2012 by Egyptian-American Chris Khalifa and chef Moustafa El Refaey, who have since opened six locations in Cairo. This is their first United States restaurant, and they went all out for the debut, raising $4 million to enter NYC. This first store was designed by Egyptian-born architect Ahmed El Husseiny to highlight Cairo street style with a big mural. Designer Jessica Walsh went for an all-new look that incorporates bright colors and an Arabic logo.
Egyptian food has so far largely been limited to outer boroughs and not seen in fast-casual form. But Middle Eastern restaurants in general have been a big part of the fast-casual craze, with restaurants such as falafel hit Taïm, Israeli pita spot Miznon, NYC street food icon Mamoun’s, and DC-based Cava all expanding here.
Khalifa previously told Eater he wants Zooba to popularize Egyptian food without “Westernizing it.”
“We’re ready to explain what ta’ameya is versus falafel, and we’ll call it ta’ameya even though everyone is used to being told its falafel,” he said, “even if that makes it a little bit harder [for us].”
Zooba is now open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.