Try as he might, chef Mourad Lahlou couldn’t escape the strong pull of Aziza, the Richmond District Moroccan restaurant he opened to acclaim in 2001 and closed for “temporary” repairs in 2016. After years of delays (the space was essentially demolished and rebuilt) Lahlou announced plans to replace Aziza with a new, Mexican-Moorish restaurant, to be called Amara. But as would-be Amara chef Louis Maldonado departed the project to lead the kitchen at downtown hotel Gibson, Lahlou returned to the former Aziza space, consulted with friends and fellow chefs, and decided it should remain Aziza after all. The new Aziza reopens — physically transformed, but the same in spirit — on October 14.
“I was so stoked to finally come in, and just feel this new space,” Lahlou remembers visiting what he hoped would be Amara. “And I walked in, and it was still Aziza ... I still see everything as it was ... the people who worked there as servers for 13 years ... ”
Known for its Californian spin on Moroccan cuisine, Aziza served dishes like lamb shank with honey kumquat sauce and basteeya, a Moroccan pot pie, reimagined as rolls of duck confit in flaky pastry. The menu was constantly evolving, Lahlou recalls, always in motion. In 2015, Lahlou opened his new flagship, Mourad, in downtown San Francisco, and a year later, Aziza came to a halt.
As customers returning to Aziza will soon see, the new restaurant doesn’t precisely resemble the old one. “You’re walking into a brand new restaurant, but it has the soul it had when it was Aziza,” says Lahlou, who likens the new vibe to “a greenhouse in the middle of Marrakech.” The restaurant’s signature arches are gone, and the bar, which now seats 15 rather than five, is situated in the back, rather than the middle of the restaurant, where there’s now a large communal table.
The same idea goes for the new Aziza menu, which will include old favorites, appeasing longtime fans, but will change and evolve as well. In particular, large, shared dishes will be a new emphasis: “There’s something to be said for reaching over the table together for that last prune from the shank, and we end up splitting it,” says Lahlou. “The meal becomes the social fabric.”
Stay tuned for a look inside the space as Aziza prepares to make its return. “It’s a special place, and it still has such relevance in the city and the country,” Lahlou says. “It’s beautifully familiar.”