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.
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).
Helmed by Moroccan-born chef Mourad Lahlou, Aziza serves up hyperlocal, innovative Moroccan fusion cuisine from its romantic dining room in Outer Richmond. Read on for more about this Michelin-starred spot.
The food is Moroccan-Californian fusion, with a heavy helping of originality. Aside from a few Moroccan mainstays like the duck confit basteeya—a mix of duck, almonds, and raisins in phyllo dough—you may not recognize the dishes you order by sight. Some are deconstructed into their individual parts, and some are made in nontraditional ways, but each one arrives looking like a work of art.
It all starts at the local farmers’ market. Chef Mourad Lahlou makes his way to the market three times a week to pick his edible muses. It’s a habit he picked up from spending time with his grandfather in Morocco as a kid.
Chef Lahlou has only ever cooked in his own kitchen. For an award-winning chef who is constantly innovating his menu, he’s also entirely self-taught. His mother and grandfather paved the path for him in Morocco, but California and its rich produce options have inspired the rest of the way.
How winning is the food? Let us count the ways. Chef Lahlou beat Iron Chef Cat Cora on the Food Network show that gave her that title. But it’s hard to mess with a Michelin star, one that diners agree the restaurant has certainly earned.
The cocktails are just as serious as the plates. Many of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables used in the craft cocktails also come straight from the farmers’ market. Depending on what’s in season, you might sip a sugar snap pea cocktail made with apple brandy or enjoy a bourbon- and absinthe-based concoction mixed up with fresh grapefruit juice.
Flavorful cuisine and unique entertainment are the specialties at El Mansour. Its authentic Moroccan dishes and vibrant atmosphere have made the eatery a local favorite for more than three decades, and the party shows no signs of winding down. Here are a few facts about this Outer Richmond destination.