New owners reinvigorate Kasbah

You probably think Kasbah is a hookah bar.

Tanya Azar and Debbie Chang acknowledged this reality when they officially took over the place, located at 2115 J Street, in June. Now, the owners are making changes and pushing a new image: a dining destination that just happens to offer hookah.

The Middle Eastern menu remains largely in-tact, though Azar reimagined every dish and added a few more, including an expansive mezze platter ($16.50); a tagine with kefta, beef and lamb meatballs ($14.50); and a vegetarian kabob ($12).

The mezze platter’s falafel and baba ghanoush particularly demonstrate the growth in Kasbah’s food. The chickpea balls boast a thin, crunchy exterior and an herby, soft interior, served with a tahini sauce brightened with lemon and herbs. Similarly, the baba ghanoush tastes remarkably bright, with a fruity olive oil-forward flavor profile, and a slightly chunky consistency. Instead of blending up the roasted eggplant into a smooth puree, Azar whisks it by hand to keep it more similar to versions in the Middle East.

While in her early 20s, Azar joined her family in Bethlehem to open a restaurant. When she moved to Sacramento 10 years ago, Kasbah reminded her of it.

“My mom, aunt and grandma were all great cooks,” she says. “I grew up in the kitchen, basically. My mom passed away two years ago so it was really cathartic to take over the restaurant, take over the recipes.”

“Azar and Chang have both worked at Kasbah for 10 years, moving from servers to bartenders to managers and, now, owners. Chang says the former owners, who still operate Tapa the World next door, had a different vision for Kasbah when they opened it 12 years ago.

“This was always a side project,” Chang says, explaining Kasbah’s history as a lounge accompaniment to the neighboring flagship restaurant. Now, the goal is to elevate it into a dining destination on its own.

Azar and Chang intend to keep what they’ve always loved about Kasbah—the lively yet intimate atmosphere, aided by lots of tapestries, low ceilings, candlelight and belly dancers—but ramp up the food and bar program. Kasbah already boasts a wide array of imported liquor, wine and beer, but Chang hopes to add craft cocktails soon.

Photos courtesy of Callista Polhemus.
Editor’s note: This post was changed on October 4 to clarify Chang’s quote.

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