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Casbah Cafe Fare Is Comforting While Still Eclectic

Lydia O'Connor |
September 20, 2010 | 7:38 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(photo by Lydia O'Connor)
(photo by Lydia O'Connor)

Maybe it’s that being a recent L.A. transplant from San Francisco has made me cling to anything bohemian or reminiscent of the free-spirited, chain-store despising city I grew up in. Or maybe it’s just that food that manages to be comforting and eclectic at the same time will always win me over. Either way, the Casbah Café is a place where it’s hard not to enjoy yourself — and hard to resist removing your shoes on and letting you inner beatnik out. 

Located at 3900 West Sunset Boulevard, some may catalog 15-year-old Casbah as another Silver Lake hipster attraction. Maybe it is, but to writers, students, and foodies alike, Casbah is still somewhere you could easily spend hours perusing your own thoughts, researching for a paper with the café’s free WiFi, or splitting several small plates of food with a friend over some enlightening conversation — as long as you don’t mind the Devendra Banhart playing in the background.

I walked up to the counter to order and was greeted by both the friendly barista and a towering pile of bananas. Moroccan chandeliers hang from high, exposed ceilings; the floor is rustic and unfinished in that “it’s meant to be this way” sense; the walls are painted an earthy cantaloupe hue; and (hardly inexpensive) merchandise ranging from tunics to teakettles doubles as décor. I’ve never been to Morocco, but my Moroccan marketplace prototype isn’t drastically different from this.

The menu on the wall — albeit a pleasing addition to Casbah’s decorative appeal —is confusing and lacking prices, but the barista was quick to hand me a takeout menu. Be forewarned: You will spend a lot of time looking (and drooling) over all your options. The sandwiches, ranging from around $7 to $10, aren’t a steal, but if you come hungry and with a case of food ADD like I did, you will have a lot of fun putting together a smorgasbord of small plates and snacks to share with a friend. A sweet corn salad with hard-boiled eggs caught my eye, as did the plates of cheeses, the spinach pudding, a vegetarian pizza, and “pumpkin bread from the cloistered nuns.” I finally settled on a zucchini frittata, a carne empanada, and a plate of pita and hummus for a total of $16.85 with the promise of a few bites of my friend’s goat cheese tart and a sip of her iced mint tea. 

(photo by Lydia O'Connor)
(photo by Lydia O'Connor)
The frittata, tart, and empanada weren’t warmed up enough for my taste, but their outstanding mix of flavors shone through regardless. The tart and frittata were creamy and rich without being too heavy, and the empanada was filled with small green olives and raisins. However, the hummus, which I had tacked on to my order with a measly side dish in mind, stole the show. Dolloped into a bowl with spices and garlic in a pool of olive oil, the velvety hummus was happily lapped up by the spoonful even after we had eaten all of the pita bread. 

The mint tea — which I had never thought to have iced until now — was refreshing and aesthetically pleasing with a flowery stock of mint, and it gave me incentive to go back and try all of Casbah’s teas, which seem to be a signature offering of theirs. The café offers two tea menus — one for black, green, oolong, and white tea and one for herbal and flower teas — and provide customers with information on the tea’s purpose. “Tummy Relief” is made with catnip and assists in digestion, and “Tonic for Men” suggests it may “help functions.”

Noticeably missing was a personal Moroccan favorite of mine: cous cous. Casbah offers it as a side order and as part of the ratatouille dish, but I would have enjoyed some cous cous variations or for it to come with my meal along with the side salad. But then again, maybe those expectations are just part of my skewed Moroccan prototype. 

Casbah isn’t gourmet, nor does it pretend to be, but it certainly beats Starbucks’ prepackaged fruit and cheese plates by a long shot. It’s the kind of place I’d find myself at consistently on Sunday afternoons, sitting cross-legged on one of their woven blanket-laden benches getting work done while simultaneously taming my hunger. Casbah Café’s interior, personality and all the food, teas, and desserts I’ve yet to try there have been on my mind since I left, and I know I’ll soon be back out of curiosity if nothing else. 

Reach reporter Lydia O'Connor here.





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