Tajine House offers a taste of Morocco at North Market

A new Moroccan eatery — a rarity in our area — is now serving flavorful fare from a cafeteria-style setup at the Downtown food hall

G.A. Benton
Chicken tajine with carrots and cauliflower photographed at Tajine House inside the North Market on Thursday, December 30, 2021.

It’s hard to know what the new year will bring in any regard, let alone for the beleaguered local restaurant scene. Because 2022 is in its infancy, I’ll opt for optimism. 

So here’s hoping that existing and would-be restaurateurs will be able to launch businesses with ever more diverse offerings. Relatedly, here’s hoping we see more eateries that prepare food that tastes as good as what’s available at Tajine House.

Columbus places specializing in Moroccan cuisine are few and far between. Their small number received a high-profile boost a few months ago when Tajine House opened in the Downtown North Market. 

Named after a classic Moroccan dish that’s named after the conical-lidded earthenware pot in which it’s traditionally cooked, Tajine House abuts Park Street Poultry & Game for good reason: Both businesses are owned by Lotfi Khomsi and Alex Daray.

While the operations are in all respects connected, the Tajine House segment distinguishes itself with some of the more attractive decorations you’ll see at a food stall. These adornments, which are Moroccan in nature, include mosaic lamps, Arabesque tiles, tajines (the clay pots) and cutouts of Moroccan-style arches. 

Tajines (the food) are essentially fragrant stews, and aromatic stews are what Tajine House consequently features from its cafeteria-style setup. The entrees are served atop saffron rice or nice and loose couscous (another Moroccan staple) and come with two choices of fine side dishes.

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Given this eatery’s poultry connection, the chicken tajine ($13.99) seemed like a smart place to start. It absolutely was. 

A hearty portion of tender, boneless thighs arrived awash in a delightful gravy likely yellowed by turmeric and saffron and brightened by preserved lemon and good black olives. As I’d find with everything here, the alluring accents enhanced rather than overshadowed the dish’s main ingredient. As I’d also find to be common — and this single fault is something Tajine House needs to address — the just-warm entree was far from piping hot.         

A similar lickable sauce offset the appealing earthiness of a lamb shank ($17.99). The huge, Fred Flintstone-like serving featured falling-off-the-bone meat, too.

Salmon tajine with eggplant and roasted tomatoes/peppers photographed at Tajine House inside the North Market on Thursday, December 30, 2021.

I was also quite pleased with a sizable salmon filet — the more expensive but more desirable and ostensibly more healthful, wild-caught variety — in a bright, tangy, peppery and lemony chermoula sauce rife with sauteed onions ($15.99). 

The value-centric Moroccan kafta ($8.99) and ground chicken entrees ($7.99) each featured two extra-large meatballs drenched in a rich yet zesty, chile-kissed tomato-harissa sauce. It’s easy to imagine either version of soothing yet perky and garlicky sauced meatballs atop pasta.

Which one should you choose? You really can't lose, but the crowd-pleasing beef meatballs were denser; the chicken orbs were equally good but lighter, springier and a dollar less.

Beef meatball with cucumber salad and beets photographed at Tajine House inside the North Market on Thursday, December 30, 2021.

All of the sides — which are served chilled even though some would be better warm — tasted great, too. Echoing the entrees, they exhibited deft touches with seasonings and acidic flourishes that amplified the inherent appeal of the showcased components.

The options include: cooked-down spinach uplifted by olive shards; a refreshing, citrus-brightened cucumber salad with diced tomato, parsley and red onion; beets with an intensely zippy dressing that tamed their earthy sweetness; wilted cauliflower with a little cumin; loubya — stewed beans in a tangy tomato-based sauce enlivened by ginger and paprika; zaalouk — a rich and naturally sweet, long-stewed eggplant dish that could convert eggplant haters; and taktouka — roasted peppers and tomatoes with a hint of chile whose deep, long-cooked, oil-enriched flavors belied its simple constituents.     

Several desserts are offered, but I was told that only the flan ($5.99) is made by Tajine House. Had I not been told this, a couple scoops of the straightforward but silky and well-made custard with an on-target caramel sauce would have clued me in to its origin anyway.  

Menu items photographed at Tajine House inside the North Market on Thursday, December 30, 2021.

Tajine House

59 Spruce St., North Market