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.
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).
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.
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.
With more than two decades in business, Cafe Morocco has put in the practice and hard work for its traditional Mediterranean cuisine to earn a Very Good to Excellent rating from Zagat. While pita triangles sop up hummus and tabbouleh, ceiling fans circulate the savory aroma of vegetarian couscous filled with red potatoes and italian squash, and chicken kebabs marinated overnight in potent moroccan spices. The decor complements the exotic flavors with North African accents, such as a colorful fabric trail hanging from the ceiling and turret-shaped outlines framing the windows and kitchen. Patrons can also sip on a cup of sage tea from a metal kettle surrounded by walls covered with painted plates, gilded antique weapons, and gilded antique permits for carrying a dagger.