There’s a reason author Paul Bowles was charmed by the field of Moroccan food. It’s impossible to spend time in North Africa and not find yourself daydreaming and lazing away over a pot of mint tea. “Each cafe has its own little legends and references which can be understood only by the initiates,” Bowles wrote in “The Worlds of Tangier.” “It is here that . . . the average man is at his happiest and least inhibited.”
If you thought it impossible to recreate that experience in Manhattan, you’re in for a surprise at Cafe Mogador. A long-standing favorite in the heart of the East Village, Cafe Mogador brings a taste of North Africa to you. Sure, there are a few tables outside, but you don’t want to miss the experience of stepping into the restaurant, which is like descending into a whole new world.
The first thing you’ll notice is the smell of Moroccan spices—ginger, cumin, and cinnamon. Old photographs line the walls, and there’s a distinctly homespun vibe to the surroundings. Your trip continues as you peruse the menu, though it’s not strictly Moroccan food. Appetizers like organic green beans and herb-crusted goat cheese round out the assortment of hummus and baba ganoush, so you can bring that date with the less-than-adventurous palate with confidence. There really is something for everyone. But you’ll want to go for the staples of Mediterranean cuisine—cous-cous, bastilla, and tagines—and of course, that pot of mint tea. Brunches and dinners are packed, but no one will shoo you away. Depending on the crowds, though, you may be tempted to head west to the Flatiron District’s Junoon, known for its flavorful and varied Indian cuisine. Bowles would understand the desire to explore. As he once wrote, “One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.”
Or you might just opt to sit awhile. Cafe Mogador is open for breakfast starting at 9 a.m. every day, and it stays open until 1 a.m., and 2 a.m. on weekends. In other words, there’s plenty of time to relax and imagine.