Thursday, October 18, 2007

THAT BERBER-Y SCENT

Posted on Thu, Oct 18, 2007 at 4:00 AM

A drive along the eyesore that is Highway 192 in Kissimmee reveals scores of potential hidden gems — mom-and-pop joints tucked way in strip-mall nooks serving up everything from Cuban to Jamaican to Filipino cuisine. But there are hidden gems, and then there are hidden gems and Chez Achraf, a Moroccan “restaurant” situated in the Main Gate Flea Market food court, certainly falls into the latter category.

The humble eatery is a little hard to find, but the trick is spotting the giant orange-shaped fruit stand (it’s between I-Drive South and Vineland Road), then making your way to Building “D,” where you’ll walk past stores hawking exotic birds, Chinese objets d’art, fake handbags, shoes and souvenirs before being greeted by the unmistakable aroma of grilled meats wafting from behind a counter.

The fact that this place was recommended to me by three different people, all Moroccan, all raving about Achraf Taby’s Berber-influenced staples, bolstered my determination to find it, and I’m glad I did. A sandwich board lists daily specials like lamb shank and tangy chicken tagine though kebabophiles can get their share from herbaceous ground beef, chicken, lamb and merguez sausage, available for less than $8. Vegged-out harira soup is as hearty as it is comforting, and the mint tea is spot-on. For a truly immersive experience, head out to the fountain-side patio and join the merry band of Moroccans and Tunisians for a few drags on the hookah.

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