A new destination for North African food is making its way to the Mission District. Gola, a Mediterranean restaurant focused on Tunisian dishes, will take over the former Brew Coop location at 819 Valencia Street. The restaurant, which will open in mid-to-late February, comes from Union Square’s Mediterranean La Marsa owner Rafik Bouzidi who says San Franciscans are adventurous eaters, but that he doubts they’ve had any exposure to proper Tunisian food. The name of the restaurant is actually a type of clay pot Tunisians use to prepare meats and stews. “I want the menu to represent an evolution of all the work we did at La Marsa,” Bouzidi says.
The entrepreneur and cook describes the menu as both drawing from coastal and inland ingredients, so items found near the sea but also in the Tunisian Sahara. Harissa, a pepper-based chili oil from the Maghreb region of northwest Africa, is a major flavor component of the menu. Gola will make its blend in-house, resulting from an extensive pepper-drying process and blending of olive oils with nine different spices. There’ll also be Tunisian deviled eggs; halal lamb, which Bouzidi says tastes different than its non-halal counterpart; and the red snapper and shrimp stew chrieme, to name just a few of the items.
The restaurant will feature a full cocktail menu, as well, with Tunisian wine as a hopeful addition. Bouzidi says his home country’s vines are having a bit of a moment, so he’ll show off as much variety as he can as sourcing allows. But, ultimately, he doesn’t have a dish to highlight or recommend. “When you say that’s the dish, people will look for just that dish,” Bouzidi says. “Never put yourself in a corner. If they ask, I say close your eyes and point at the menu.”
The chef and entrepreneur first came to the United States in 1999 from Tunisia to study science and engineering but stuck around to cook in restaurants in Las Vegas and the Bay Area. He opened La Marsa in 2017, though the restaurant is still seeking a post-pandemic home; Bouzidi hopes it will be another location in the Mission District so he can serve crepes and pastries for brunch at La Marsa then bring customers to Gola for dinner. “It could be a hit,” Bouzidi says. “It could be a miss. I’m excited, scared, anxious, and proud.”
Gola will open in mid-to-late February at 819 Valencia Street.