On the outer edge of Manhattan’s grunge-fueled, trendy, yet humble historic district of Saint Marks, Café Mogador has been serving up the flavors of Morocco and the Mediterranean for over 30 years. Long the beloved and secret haunt of immigrants looking for a taste of home, this East Village landmark is a haven for diners who crave traditional Middle Eastern cuisine.
Of Moroccan decent myself, Café Mogador has become a family institution. My parents have been regulars since before I was born–a dining tradition they continued with me, despite having moved to suburban Connecticut. The café itself even reminds me of their home and the homes of other family members. The faded black and white pictures that line the restaurant walls resemble those my parents proudly display in their living room…right down to the Moroccan dress and spatial ornamentation. The ceramic tagines and antique curios that decorate the bar only enhance the café’s authentic sense of place.
Café Mogador brings the vibrant allure of mesmerizing Morocco to the heart of the East Village– 11th Street between 1st Ave and A. This is especially apparent during the always-busy weekend brunch. Weaving my way through the packed tables and chatty crowd takes me back to my visits to the many intoxicating food markets of the Middle East.
Though certainly a plus, it’s not atmosphere alone that keeps Café Mogador buzzing… the food is absolutely delicious and affordable. Obvious favorites include falafel, hummus and tagine– a meal at Café Mogador without these key dishes would simply be incomplete. Other specialties, such as the perfectly seasoned skewers of grilled merguez, finely chopped salads and overflowing plates of fluffy cous-cous don’t disappoint either…and neither does the easily shareable and deliciously tart za’atar topped labne, the fiery matbucha and my personal favorite, a sweet and savory filo dough and chicken dish known as bastilla.
Though the crowd at Café Mogador these days is decidedly cooler than my parents ever were, it is the evocative aromas and spicy tastes of home that ensure my family’s consistent return. Hope to see you there.
Featured image courtesy of New York Natives, Photographer: Sarita Dan