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.
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).
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.
Executive chef Donna Insalaco has more than just her two decades of experience guiding her at Beautifull. She also has the eatery’s team of advisors, which includes Dean Ornish, MD on healthcare and Dr. Christopher Gardner on diet science. Together, they draw from the extensive nutrition research gathered by members of the Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute to craft meals that aren’t just designed to be healthy and fresh, but also delicious.
The science-backed crew of chefs assembles a seasonal selection of soups, sandwiches, meat-based entrees, and seafood dishes which they make with organic, antibiotic- and steroid-free ingredients from local farms when possible. Once they’ve prepared the nutritious eats, they’ll place them in eco-friendly potato-based Tater Ware packaging before serving them in a sleek, wooden-walled eatery.
Rustic Mediterranean Food | Local and Organic Ingredients | Wood-Fired Oven | Global Cocktails | Open Kitchen
What to Drink: Nopa's list of cocktails spans the globe, featuring exotic spirits such as Nicaraguan Flor de Caña and Scottish Glenkinchie and more than 20 housemade bitters. There's also a collection of European vintages housed in a rather unique wine cellar—an old, repurposed bank vault.
Where to Sit: Rub elbows with regulars at a large communal table, where you can watch chefs stoke the flames of a wood-burning oven in the open kitchen.
When to Go: Nopa's kitchen stays open later than most—until 1 a.m.—making it the go-to place for anyone hungry after a night out.
While You're Waiting
While You're in the Neighborhood
Shop: Peruse handmade, beautiful, and otherwise unique jewelry, stationery, and accessories at Rare Device (600 Divisadero Street).
Move: Go for a run or soak up some prime city views at Alamo Square Park (corner of Hayes Street and Steiner Street).
If You Can’t Make It, Try This: Nopa's sister restaurant, Nopalito (306 Broderick Street), puts a local, sustainable twist on traditional Mexican cuisine.