After having eaten at Barbes, I was eager to check out Omar Balouma's other restaurant. Stopping to notice the beautiful, ornately carved front door, we learned that it was shipped directly from Morocco, and functions as a literal and figurative portal to North Africa. Inside, a vague smell of hookah smoke hangs in the air amidst beautifully crafted walls done in a soft pastel-hued Venetian plaster. The front of the restaurant is for dining where the menu offers smaller Mediterranean-style plates flavored with Moroccan spices. The back hookah room might be the real star. Benches line the large square room, along with colorful seat cushions while tapestry-esque sheets hang overhead. Saturday nights come alive with belly dancers and music is played by Rachid Halibal, a native of Morocco.
Since its inception, Cafe Mogador has become a beloved East Village institution. In fact, it gained such a devoted following from both New York locals and celebrities that it later opened a second location in Williamsburg. The two successful restaurants, which specialize in inventive Moroccan-inspired dishes, owe their fame to the family that has continued to run both cafes. Cafe Mogador was founded by Rivka Orlin, who was born in the Moroccan city of Mogador that has since been re-named Essaouira. Though she and her family later emigrated to Israel, Rivka fostered a passion for both cuisines as she spent her childhood cooking alongside her mother. When Rivka and her brother moved to New York, there was no question that they would dedicate their new business to celebrating their heritage. The cafe is now known for Moroccan classics such as succulent braised tagines, warm homemade pitas, and a variety of dips, as well as its unexpected fusions with other cuisines, from Middle Eastern Eggs Benedict to duck confit.