The avocat at Neo Baguette.

Image: Lauro Rojas

Neo Baguette sits on an unsuspecting stretch of 20th Street in the Heights. And you wouldn’t know from the looks of it, but this new bistro from Karim Kasri was previously an auto parts shop.

Now it’s a fast-casual BYOB restaurant ($5 corking per table) with an industrial interior, sans a couple chandeliers. Its menu is straightforward, broken up in four categories—salads, sandwiches, toast, and dinner (after 5 p.m.)—plus sides and a kids’ menu.

A Moroccan native who attended culinary school in France before moving to New York City 24 years ago, Kasri has worked at Felice and the Russian Tea Room. He chose to open his first restaurant in Houston after only a 10-day visit. What was to be a salad and sandwich shop transformed into a counter service bistro and coffee shop that pulls from his experiences, mainly those of the western Mediterranean.

“In my career, I’ve worked in French and Italian restaurants, and I took that experience and I spiced it up with a Moroccan touch by using a lot of Moroccan ingredients,” he said. “I use a lot of saffron in my cooking because I absolutely love it.”

I started with the salade neo, made with spinach, arugula, oak leaves, shaved Brussels sprouts, radicchio, cucumber, mango, cranberry, pumpkin seeds, parmesan cheese, light olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette. It was vibrant, both sweet and tangy. The avocat—avocado in balsamic and olive oil on a multigrain toast with a poached egg atop and mixed greens on the side—had a delectable crunch with the poached egg adding a silky smooth consistency. Dinner plates include the tagliatelle saumon fume, which consists of smoked salmon, saffron garlic, cream sauce, and gruyere cheese. The pasta was not lumpy or overcooked, and the flavors were well balanced.

At the counter is a display case offering all kinds of sweets; you’d be remiss if you didn’t have the crème brûlée, which Karim makes in house. It’s sufficiently sweet and creamy with perfect firmness. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries sit atop to provide a bit of tartness.

With an affordable, no-frills menu and a touch of elegance, it’s no surprise that Neo Baguette is a quick neighborhood favorite. It can serve as a quick bite, weekend brunch spot, or date night selection—there is no wrong way to approach it.

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Neo Baguette

$$ French, Italian, Mediterranean 201 E. 20th St.