Though dining inside of a tent usually means charred hot dogs and ghost stories, El Morocco replaces these traditions with spectacle: entrees of entire cornish hens, ornate floor pillows, and belly dancers. A canvas ceiling shelters these displays and captures the aromas of meat and Moroccan spices as they drift from the kitchen. These scents emanate from entrees of couscous, lamb garlanded with almonds and honey, and dishes of braised hare?all part of an authentic Moroccan menu dreamed up by owner Fadil Shahin.
Fadil's love of music drives his venue's hypnotizing performances. Belly dancers sway and shimmy on Tuesday?Sunday evenings, brandishing swords and scarves to augment their choreography. Undulating instructors can even enroll students in a belly-dance showcase on the first and second Sunday night of each month. The "dancers' nights" provide both pros and up-and-comers with valuable stage time, allowing them to practice their eclectic skills for audiences. Fadil might regale guests with tunes on the lute-like oud, or percussion rhythms on the darbuka. In addition to entrancing regular diners, the entertainment adds glamour and festivity to group events, including weddings and crying parties.
Morocco's Restaurant's chefs and owners have created a menu that embraces more than 200 years of Morocco's multicultural history. Boasting influences from across the Mediterranean Coast, the chefs craft dishes with flavors from countries as far away as India. Appetizers such as shrimp pil-pil or Moroccan-spiced roasted peppers simmer in zesty sauces, and entrees such as chicken kebabs, lamb and vegetable cous cous, and fresh fish filet all come covered in cilantro with sides of jasmine rice and vegetables.
However, food isn't the only tradition they brought from Morocco. The calendar of events features nightly live Moroccan music and belly dancing throughout the restaurant, and live acoustic guitar plays while servers freely pour the house sangria. Even blues music finds its place in the restaurant, with most songs inspired by a singer who dropped his kebab on the floor.
Strings of yellow and red beads sway back and forth from a belly dancer’s bodice as her torso effortlessly swivels around the room. Though her colorful garb commands the attention of diners sitting around golden tables, it isn’t the only eye-catching sight in the restaurant. Silhouettes of dangling lanterns and bunny shadow puppets dance along gold and red drapery hung from the ceiling, and pastel-colored cushions for sitting rest atop maroon banquettes. Menara Moroccan Restaurant’s aesthetic touches set a uniquely picturesque scene for guests to take in aromatic platters of vegetable couscous, meat tajines, and baklava, while feasting their ears on live music. After meals, patrons can retreat to the hookah lounge for slow puffs of flavored tobacco, capping off a dining experience that earned the eatery a Diners’ Choice Award for Best Ambiance from OpenTable.
Growing up in a small town in Ethiopia, Eskender Aseged lived in the only household in the neighborhood with a radio. The pop songs and soccer matches that fizzled through those speakers brought families together to laugh and listen. After moving to San Francisco, where every car on the road blares its radio, Aseged turned toward cooking in order to bring that sense of community and wonderment to his new neighborhood.
Radio Africa & Kitchen grew from a home-based, popup eatery into a full-blown restaurant, where Aseged is free to experiment with Ethiopian and Mediterranean flavors. He makes use of the freshest ingredients he can get his hands on, coming up with a brand-new menu and costumed mascot on a weekly basis. His bold cooking and rousing personal story have captured the attention of publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and the New York Times.
The flavor artisans at Aicha forge a menu of classic Moroccan fare, an eclectic cuisine that boasts the cultural and culinary influences of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Meals begin with a pot of tea that whistles a perfectly tuned F-sharp before diners move on to such appetizers as the b'stilla—which stuffs its crispy phyllo dough with a sweet and peppery chicken filling—and bowls of fragrant harira soup. Shanks of savory braised lamb rest alongside onions and prunes to create the lamb tagine, and the vegetarian couscous eschews meats entirely in favor of a kaleidoscopic array of garbanzo beans, squash, and zucchini.
While You’re Waiting: Play “find the French influence” on the menu, a product of France’s historical presence in the area—it pops up especially in baguette sandwiches and crepes.
Inside Tip: They may not seem particularly North African, but go ahead and order fries with your sandwich. They’re hot and crisp, and, best of all, you can splash them with hot sauce at the table.
Harira: a traditional lentil soup of the Maghreb region of North Africa, typically served after sundown during Ramadan to break the day’s fast.
Merguez: a spicy sausage originating in North Africa. The meat—usually lamb or beef—is seasoned with chilies or harissa to impart it with a bright red hue.
Tagine: a covered clay pot that lends its name to a slow-cooked Moroccan stew, often including meat and vegetables along with dates, dried fruits, nuts, and olives.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Stop and be mesmerized by the exotic beta fish at Ocean Aquarium (120 Cedar Street).
After: Grab a beer from a 375-strong selection at Amsterdam Café (937 Geary Street).