Closures of beloved restaurants have become a way of life here in the practically-impossible-to-do-business Bay Area—we miss the likes of Jardinière and Commonwealth, and will soon say so long to Oakland’s iconic Flora.
Once they’re gone, it’s rare for a restaurant to re-open. But now, at a time when we could all use a bit of nice news and something comforting to eat, one of San Francisco’s old favorite restaurants is back for seconds; and tbh, we couldn’t be happier about it.
The reopening of Aziza—Mourad Lahlou’s Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant in the Outer Richmond, first opened in 2001—is the happy result of a seriously epic delay. In May of 2016, Lahlou closed the restaurant for renovations; the process, which was estimated to take two months, dragged on for more than a year thanks to the city requirements that kept piling on.
Eventually, the chef got restless and envisioned an all new project. Aziza, he decided, would make way for a Mexican-meets-Moroccan concept called Amara, which would blend the cuisines of his Moroccan heritage with the Mexican background of Aziza’s then-chef de cuisine, Louis Maldonado. Another year passed without the new restaurant’s unveiling, and Maldonado departed to take the toque at Gibson. Amara’s much anticipated opening would never be. And then came the surprise twist.
Today, if you find yourself standing once more at the corner of Geary Boulevard and 22nd Avenue, you can open the heavy wood door, cross the tiled threshold, and find yourself again in the small Moroccan-style oasis that feels like it has always been meant to be Aziza.
The refreshed interior is Instagram-ready. Architectural designer Kristen Mayberry Simmons spearheaded the relocation of the bar to the back of the space, creating a glowy cocktailing haven that feels like an occasion; as well as the addition of more windows for better light.
Interior designer Lucy Brown McCormick added some saucy touches: splashy aquamarine tiles and coved-beam ceilings. In the front dining room, casual design and subtle desert vibes reign via glowing Venetian-plastered walls, wicker lanterns, and natural leather hides on modern minimalist chairs. But it is past the bar that you’ll find your photo op: a third, more intimate space dressed in tropical palm wallpaper and tufted booths. Is this real life? At Aziza, it is.
In whichever room you pull up a chair, the menu offering will be the same: a mix of Aziza classics with a few fresh twists. Regulars to the old place won’t hesitate in diving back into the flaky chicken basteeya laced with crumbled almonds, or the hearty beef cheek tagine for a cozy comfort food moment. Oysters are also on offer, as are dips and spreads, juicy kefta meatballs, and a hefty lamb shank, all of it thoughtfully incorporating spice and highlighting Moroccan cooking techniques with Californian ingredients.
Back in the day, Aziza was the first Moroccan restaurant in the U.S. to earn a Michelin star; and Lahlou’s eponymous restaurant, Mourad, holds it own in terms of wattage. So will Aziza reclaim its celestial status? We think the future is bright.
Few things are more satisfying that hot and puffy Moroccan sesame rolls served with delicious things for dipping. From left: Cauliflower curry; butter beans with merguez sausage crumbles; and chickpea saffron with sesame seeds.
We never say no to burrata, though often its preparation can be a bit basic. That’s certainly not the case at Aziza, where the creamy mound of cheese is just the icing atop layers of roasted eggplant with pepper relish, pine nuts, and sweet raisins. Don’t miss it.
The smoked sea trout feels both healthy and decadent at once, paired with sections of citrus fruit, shaped bits of avocado, and marash pepper.
Roasted prawns are plump and juicy, packed with a bit of heat thanks to harissa and red charmoula spices.
A skewer of five tender kefta meatballs, on a pool of cilantro vinaigrette, is served with a chilled salad of shaved jicama and halved grapes for a refreshing contrast.
The chicken basteeya of our dreams.
The chicken basteeya reveals itself to be a complex morsel of sweet and savory layers of chicken, almonds, and onions.
The beef cheek tagine will arrive in the traditional clay pot; when the lid comes off, breathe in the aroma of a steaming hearty stew with tender chunks of meat, rice puffs, almonds, apricots, and spiced root vegetable jam.
A sexy new bar area beckons us to begin dinner with a drink—and you’d be well rewarded to do so thanks to the cocktail program from bar director Alex Okark. Try the Forbidden Fruit, with Flor de Cana seven-year rum, Ratu Signature rum, baking spice, apple, and lemon, garnished with a cardamom stick that will still be smoking upon arrival.
If you’re in it for just a drink or a two, Aziza’s new bar room feels warm and convivial. Take a moment to admire the gorgeous tilework.
Aziza’s front dining room oozes effortless cool with basket-woven pendant lights, leather chairs, and a few potted plants.
Hello again, old friend.
// Aziza, 5800 Geary Boulevard (Outer Richmond), azizasf.com
This article was originally written and photographed by me for 7×7, and can be viewed here.
Looking for another Moroccan gem? Check out Eat Bay spot, Dyafa, for great breads, dips, and chicken dishes.