First Taste: Reopened Aziza Dishes Moroccan-Spiced Happiness in Outer Richmond

The chicken basteeya reveals itself to be a complex morsel of sweet and savory layers of chicken, almonds, and onions. (Sarah Chorey/7x7)

By Sarah Chorey

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.

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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.

At Aziza 2.0, the best seats in the house can be found beneath the palms.
At Aziza 2.0, the best seats in the house can be found beneath the palms. (Sarah Chorey/7x7)

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.

Roasted prawns are plump and juicy, packed with a bit of heat thanks to harissa and red charmoula spices.
Roasted prawns are plump and juicy, packed with a bit of heat thanks to harissa and red charmoula spices. (Sarah Chorey/7x7)

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.

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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.

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.
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. (Sarah Chorey/7x7)

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.

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.
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. (Sarah Chorey/7x7)

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.

This article originally appeared on 7x7 Bay Area.

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