Following a temporary close that turned into three years of eager anticipation, an aborted foray into Moroccan-Mexican fusion, and a chef-partner who moved on to other projects, the moment has finally arrived: Mourad Lahlou is reopening Aziza, the restaurant whose Californian-Moroccan cooking first brought him to national, Michelin-starred prominence.
The reborn Aziza is slated to open on Monday, October 21 at the original location — now beautifully renovated — at 5800 Geary Blvd in the Richmond. Lahlou is known for blending Moroccan flavors with Californian ingredients, and longtime fans of his restaurants, both Aziza and Mourad, will find comfort in the soulful cooking style — don’t worry, the hand-rolled couscous and chicken basteeya didn’t go anywhere. But the menu will also have fresh updates, like a smoked trout salad and a sticky date cake.
A dark, intimate restaurant named after Lahlou’s mother, Aziza originally opened on a quiet corner of the Richmond in 1999. The techniques and spices that the chef uses are still inspired by his native Marrakesh, but today, the food at Aziza is very much a team effort — a collaboration between Lahlou himself; culinary director Mike Daly, the longtime day-to-day chef at Mourad; and chef de cuisine Frank Hanes, from the original Aziza. Divided into snacks, spreads, small plates, and larger platters, everything on the menu is meant to be shared. “Just like in Morocco, no matter what else is going on, the table is the center of existence,” Lahlou says. “We wanted lots of little plates and large platters, so people can be gossiping, bumping elbows, and arguing over whose grandmother made it better.”
Snacks include oysters, olives, and pickles, and a trio of spreads with merguez-spiced butter beans, curried cauliflower, and saffron chickpeas. Small plates feature a smoked sea trout salad and a smoky harira (“basically the national soup of Morocco”) poured over lentils. The large platters include the pastry-encrusted chicken basteeya and a big bone-in lamb shank — both signature dishes at the original Aziza. For sweets, the date cake looks like the stunner — it’s a spin on sticky toffee pudding, soaked in butterscotch, with crème fraîche ice cream. In addition to a full bar, guests can sip Moroccan mint tea and tisanes.
The space itself got a full update, from the plumbing to the tile details, a huge investment that Lahlou originally thought was impossible. Architect Kristen Mayberry Simmons moved the entire bar from the center of the restaurant to the back, raised the ceiling, and opened up windows, bringing in more light. Interior designer Lucy Brown McCormick put the touches on the main dining room, the back bar, and a smaller side room.
“It’s fucking beautiful. I just love its old soul,” Lahlou remarks on the reimagined space. “As soon as you walk through the door, it brought me back. We got the lease in 1999, and even the landlord never wants us to leave.This restaurant just belongs here. It has that sense of place, in the heart of the Richmond District, part of the fabric of the city.”
Aziza will be open for dinner every day for dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m., and for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.