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A first look North African Cuisine’s hot lunch

A cropped image of the dishes at North African Cuisine in Urbana. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

At Strawberry Fields in Urbana, there is a new menu of North African Cuisine that begins next week. Led by Hanane Harbi, the one-woman kitchen cooks a menu of Algerian, Moroccan, and Tunisian dishes ranging from soups to salads to couscous bowls, and the menu has something for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike.

An overhead photo of all the dishes for the North African Cuisine hot lunch inside Strawberry Fields. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

The new Urbana business invited me in today to try some of the food.

An overhead photo of catering pans of North African Cuisine. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

The restaurant’s main two dishes are chorba, a North African soup, and couscous. The chorba comes in two varieties: chicken and a vegan option, and it’s packed full of herbs, onions, kidney beans, and ditalini noodles. The couscous is the chef’s favorite thing on the menu, and North African Cuisine’s couscous comes topped with vegetables or lamb with veggies.

A portrait photo of the bourek, wrapped rolls that were fried to golden brown. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

There’s also bourek, fried rolls filled with beef, potato, onion, parsley, and a little bit of cheese. These were absolutely delicious. The wrappers were audibly crispy, and the filling was great.

A large catering pan of Algerian salad at North African Cuisine restaurant. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

The salad was a trio of fresh chopped cucumber, red onion, and summer tomato that came with a simple herb vinaigrette.

The author's lunch on a red tray: hot lunch Algerian dishes: choroba, couscous, salad, and bourek. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

I got to sample the chorba, salad, couscous with lamb, and two bourek (one beef, one veggie). The soup was my favorite because it was so flavorful. Some tomato soups have just one or two flavors, but this soup had so many. The chorba had a strong tomato taste layered with fresh herb flavors of cilantro, mint, parsley, onions, pepper, and garlic. As it’s about to be soup season, North African Cuisine’s chorba will satisfy. The fluffy couscous was great and a tasty grain to absorb the lamb’s sauce, and the salad was a fresh contrast to all the hearty hot lunch dishes.

With a crunchy, crisp exterior, the bourek were so yummy. I liked the veggie one, but the non-veg option’s herby mashed potato-like filling and ground beef tasted kind of like a shepard’s pie egg roll — and it was crazy good.

The menu for Authentic North African Cuisine. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

For now, North African Cuisine will only offer lunch service only three days a week to start, but there are plans to expand the hours to include additional days and dinner as well. I spoke to the woman running the whole kitchen by herself. “If people like my food, I will cook it everyday,” she said. Hear that, C-U? Go forth and eat some Algerian lunch from this small woman-owned business.

The exterior of Strawberry Fields on a summer day with a blue sky. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
Alyssa Buckley

Previously, Strawberry Field’s kitchen was home to Afghan Cuisine restaurant, which closed after only a month and now has plans to open a standalone location in Champaign.

North African Cuisine
inside Strawberry Fields
306 W Springfield
W+F+Sa 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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