Zooba, a fast-casual chain with six locations in Cairo, made a splashy debut in New York City over the weekend with the opening of a spacious restaurant on a busy Nolita corner. The emphasis here is on Egyptian street food, and the space feels like a party, with a high-energy design and owners Chris Khalifa and chef Moustafa El Refaey running around making sure everyone is happy and well fed. Which, considering they had to stop taking orders for extended periods over the weekend because the kitchen couldn't keep up, and closed five hours early on Sunday, took a lot of doing.

Much of the menu at Zooba involves ta'ameya, little patties that look like falafel but are made from a "super secret" fava bean and herb mix, rather than chickpeas. The ta'ameya is fried to order and usually stuffed into puffy, housemade baladi bread. You can get your ta'ameya sandwich in simple, classic style, or creamy with roumy cheese, or fiery with harissa, or tangy with pickled lemon.

All of these are loaded with tahini and various salads and sauces, so if you really want to taste what ta'ameya is all about—and see if, as several young Egyptians I chatted with insisted, it is indeed "a million times better" than falafel—I suggest you get a five-pack of fried discs and a couple of dipping sauces. The ta'ameya are so crisp on the outside that they eat almost like chips when served this way, and all four dips have a lot of character.

The other primary sandwich category at Zooba are the Hawawshi, which are like hot-pressed burgers available plain, with cheese, or spicy. While there is plenty of beef flavor involved here, the menu reveals that the patty is actually 45% vegetable. For a real drippy, meaty affair, get the Beef Liver Sandwich, which is loaded with twisty bits of roasted offal. The fat Dukka Fries, crisp and well-seasoned, go well with all of these.

They had stopped serving some of the menu when I got there on Sunday afternoon for a second visit, so I wasn't able to try the Koshari (a rice-spaghetti-lentil-chickpea bowl that's available on weekends only), nor the Ful Medames, which is "every Egyptian's everyday breakfast ever," so that was too bad. But the "not hummus" Zooba Bessara, made from fava beans with tomatoes and olives for a little acid kick, was terrific.

Outside of Zooba

The flavors here are lively, everything seems fresh and healthy, and the whole Zooba vibe is a welcome alternative to the dreary scene at most of the salad- and bowl-based chains that have taken over lunchtime in this town. The colorful LED light show that dances across much of the ceiling, the cheeky copy on the over-saturated signage, the hand-painted murals paying homage to Cairo street carts, the huge windows flung wide open to the street, the communal tables and counter seating... it feels exciting and alive in here.

Zooba is located at 100 Kenmare Street, at the corner of Cleveland Place, and is open, supposedly, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (zoobaeats.com)