New York City has no shortage of Moroccan restaurants, but here are our five favorite places in Manhattan to load up on couscous, tagines, bastilla, green tea, and other traditional delicacies and deliciousness. By Jessica Allen.
Both locations of Cafe Gitane showcase French and Moroccan food, including such specialties as couscous with toasted pine nuts, red peppers, raisins, potatoes, eggplant, and hummus (add merguez sausages or organic chicken, if you’re craving protein). You can get an array of salads too, if you’re worried about fitting in among the models, actors, and scenesters who tend to congregate here. To drink, try the “Suffering Bastard,” which the menu calls “a British soldier’s hangover cure,” with cognac, lemon juice, ginger ale, gin, and Angostura bitters.
So successful and so beloved has Cafe Mogador in the East Village been over the past three decades that its proprietors opened a second location in Williamsburg in 2012. It’s proven equally successful and beloved. Both serve breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner. Appetizers include roasted halumi cheese with grilled veggies and zahatar pita, while entrees range from a whole grilled dorade royale with herb-roasted fennel and olives to a vegetable tagine with crispy okra, served with herbed couscous.
If there’s a sexier restaurant in Manhattan, we have yet to find it. Shalel Lounge oozes sensuality, from its underground entrance to its secluded nooks and crannies to its rose-petal-strewn floors to its tapestries and couches to its pinkish red lighting. Given the restaurant’s tiny tables and low chairs, as well as its let’s-get-it-on vibe, finger foods are a wise ordering decision. Go for the lamb cigars, adorable turkey meatballs, and hummus, babaganoush, and olive spread.
As you might expect from the name, Tagine, in Midtown, offers several types of tagines. A Berber specialty served throughout North Africa, these savory stews are cooked in clay pots. Here, the tagine options include a sweet potato tagine, featuring stewed sweet potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers; a spicy chicken tagine; a kefta tagine, with minced lamb simmered in parsley, tomatoes, and preserved lemon; and a stewed chicken and potatoes, green peas, and carrots tagine, with a homemade saffron sauce.
Zerza holds a special place in our hearts, as it was at this East Village restaurant where we first tried the bastilla, a traditional Moroccan dish that comfortably straddles the line between sweet and savory. At Zerza, the bastilla comes decorated with powdered sugar and cinnamon, and smells like fried dough. Opening the crust yields a flavorful mixture of almonds, onions, chicken, saffron, eggs, and pepper. In Morocco, however, the bastilla often comes stuffed with another bird, namely pigeon.