The businesses on the bottom floor of the Broadlind Hotel in Long Beach's East Village have turned over many times. The last three years have seen the corner unit host two different coffeeshops; the tiny boutique facing Linden Ave. has been a salon, a jewelry store and is currently a juice bar; and the two-story storefront on the Broadway side of the building has lived its life as a music venue, an art gallery and (years ago) a coffeeshop where I got my first job after moving to Long Beach.
It has never, however, been a full-service restaurant--until now. Asha (pronounced ah-SHA) is a "Moroccan Mediterranean kitchen" that opened in the historic space this March with a menu of foreign-language dishes and a hot-pink-and-white décor to rival any fancy Palm Springs boutique hotel.
Owned by 29 year-old Hend Elarabi--the same person who recently opened specialty coffeeshop The Greenhouse in the unit next door--Asha is a family operation, incorporating Elarabi's mother's recipes, her cousin's accounting skills and other family members who are often seen enjoying a communal meal in the restaurant's dining area.
Connected to The Greenhouse by an indoor entryway, Asha's drink options are multiplied by its sister business' pour-over locally roasted coffee and exotic loose-leaf tea. You have to pay separately at each place, however, so I started my Asha meal at the Greenhouse counter where I ordered a pot of oolong, which the barista suggested I try with hemp milk.
Once sitting in Asha's modern-looking space, I became wonderfully overwhelmed by a menu of food I had not only never tried, but had never even heard of before. Morroccan food is about as common in Long Beach as Cambodian food is in Orange County, which is to say that there are other similar ethnic food options that will wean you into the spices and flavors from that part of the world, but nothing can prepare you for the true uniqueness of that country's cuisine.
Skimming over the huge menu, I felt as if I was learning an entirely new language. Foods such as pita bread, hummus, shawarma and tabouli were about the only familiar things offered. The rest--including labni, harrira, shakshooka, tajeens, zaatar and adeesa--were entirely new. New adventures are always a good place to start (especially if you can't pronounce it!) and so I ordered a lunch entrée of Chicken Tawook, which came with a side of rice pilaf and an Asha Salad.
Though the Asha Salad is only made with cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado tossed in a lemon and parsley oil, it was spectacular--clever, subtle, brilliant. The Chicken Tawook was served kabob-style, cubed and marinated in imported Moroccan herbs and spices. Eating chunks of this simply prepared meat with a forkful of moist basmati rice was comfort food on the level of Mama.
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With an affordable lunch menu ($8.99 for an entrée and a drink) and a large array of traditional Moroccan meat and vegetarian food, Asha is not just the latest business to occupy its East Village location, it's another Mediterranean perspective that is adding to the culinary diversity of Long Beach. No belly dancers, though!
Asha Moroccan Mediterannean Kitchen, 149 Linden Ave., Long Beach, (562) 628-2255.