VOTE FOR THE BEST OF ORLANDO® 2021 NOW THROUGH AUG. 1!

click to enlarge tajinexpress_2.jpg

Photo by Rob Bartlett

Moroccan quick-serve Tajine Xpress brings the flavors of North Africa to East Orlando 

Eat Moor

It seems like we have a love/hate relationship with Moroccan restaurants in this city, and I'm not sure why.

No sooner did homey joints like Kabbab House and Kasbah Grill, or lavish eateries like Pasha Taverna and Casablanca Grill & Lounge, blow in with the bluster of a sirocco than they'd flutter into closure just a few months later. There were others — Chez Achraf, Couscous Moroccan Restaurant, Atlas Express — all decent, all gone with the wind. Oh sure, there's Spice Road Table and Restaurant Marrakesh but, c'mon, Epcot restaurants don't really count as local. No, only Moroccan Breeze inside Apna Bazaar on South OBT (it's run by Habiba Bimekliouen, who spent seven years at Restaurant Marrakesh) and Merguez on I-Drive have consistently kept those clay vessels fired with the stewy goods of the Barbary Coast. But now, with the opening of Tajine Xpress in East Orlando, we could be entering yet another honeymoon phase with Moroccan restaurants.

Tajine Xpress has visual allure, with its room of blue stucco and desert-brown walls. Mosaic lamps, lanterns and geometric dinnerware heighten the aesthetics, so it's a shame the restaurant opted for plastic utensils. Then again, Tajine Xpress technically falls under the "fast casual" category — patrons order at the counter and food is brought out by some very friendly staff.

But smiles and pleasant dispositions won't season the harira ($3.98), a tomato-based soup with beef, chickpeas, lentils and vermicelli, the way a dash (or five) of salt and a liberal squeeze of lemon could. It helped the loubia ($3.98), a white bean stew, as well, though neither were a match for the beautifully roasted eggplants and tomatoes in the garlicky, smoky zalouk ($3.98). This stellar starter was scooped up with soft rounds of house-baked Moroccan bread.

Admittedly, my mind was focused on the chicken tajine ($11.98) from the moment we entered. On my first visit to Tajine Xpress a few months back, I saw a family breaking fast with the dish during Ramadan, and that lemony stew dotted with green olives just looked so incredibly gratifying. I ended up taking home a tajine of sesame-flecked beef, prunes, onions and almonds ($11.98) that night as they'd run out of the chicken, but not this time. We indulged with great abandon and agreed the chicken would be added to our regular rotation of eats.

Same goes for the fatty — melt-in-your-mouth fatty — curry goat tajine ($12.98) sweetened with raisins. Both came with rice (couscous is served only on weekends), but the rice was happily sacrificed in favor of more worthy gut-busters like bastilla ($12.98), the sweet and savory phyllo dough pastry stuffed with seasoned chicken, dusted with powdered sugar and served with a side of honey. Moroccan fare is big on fusing the sweet with the meaty, and no dish does it better than flaky bastilla.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ROB BARTLETT
  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Then there's briwat ($8.98), a thick, flaky triangular pastry packed with seasoned beef à la keema samosa. The dip in this case was a fiery harissa that we had to get more of to dunk morsels of chicken, shrimp and kefta served in the kebab trio ($14.98). It's all heart-warming stuff, made warmer by sips of Moroccan mint tea ($2.99) poured from a handmade teapot.

For a fast-casual restaurant, the mood here is certainly relaxed and quite conducive to lingering. It may be called Tajine Xpress, but a meal here just isn't one to be rushed.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

July 28, 2021

View more issues

Calendar

© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation