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Restaurants & Bars 6

Couscous in the Tenderloin, a triple report

Malik | Nov 22, 200403:57 PM

A few months ago, Delia asked about a hot tip on a Tunisian restaurant in the Tenderloin (see link below). Her post reminded me of a conversation I had with a Tunisian cab driver a while ago, who had told me about a couple of "secret" Tunisian restaurants in the area. I finally decided to go on a discovery trip and try these secret places. The first two I tried (La Mama Burger and Green Pizza) were the ones the cab driver had mentioned, and they are both small fast food holes in the wall that have unadvertised Tunisian food specials. I also later on tried Dunes Grill, which has a North African menu and serves it every day.

- La Mamma Burger, 403 Eddy St (at Leavenworth), 415-359-9644

The regular menu at this place is mostly deep fried food (prawns, chicken, fish, fried) along with burgers and a Philly cheese steak sandwich. None of it looks very appealing, but they also have most days a Tunisian dish in the back which you can request instead which usually costs $7. The first time I went in they had a lamb stew with potatoes and peas, which was served with bread. Unfortunately I was with a vegetarian friend so I didn't get to try it.

On Fridays, from 2pm onward, they serve Couscous, the traditional North African dish consisting of steamed wheat semolina (which by itself is usually called couscous in this country) and a lamb stew served on top of it. The lamb consisted of a generous piece of lamb shank, and the stew itself was a thick red puree. I'm not quite sure what was in the stew as none of the ingredients were visible, but I suspect there were tomatoes and some other vegetables. This was good dish overall, but I prefer couscous that's served as more of brothy stew with whole pieces of vegetables.

Note that La Mamma is closed at the moment, but I gave them a call and they said they should be reopening in a few days. Also, if you want the couscous on Friday, go early as they run out by dinner time (they were out of it when I went by around 7pm once).

- Green Pizza & Restaurant, 219 Jones St (at Taylor), 415-346-0444, 415-346-4566

Here, the regular menu is mostly pizza, but they also have Tunisian food available for those who ask for it. Like La Mamma, they only do Couscous on Fridays from 2pm onward, but they have it available until much later (they said they normally should have some until closing time at 2am). The couscous here is more traditional, consisting of the steamed semolina topped with a brothy stew with all kinds of vegetables and some meat (usually lamb, though I've had chicken once also). This couscous is my favorite among the three restaurants in this report, it's really tasty and reminded me of some of the better ones I've had in Paris. The portions are quite generous and cost $10 each. They sometimes also have additional items you can order on the side, such as a roasted piece of lamb (reminiscent of a Moroccan Mechoui) and merguez. I would recommend ordering the roasted lamb if they have it, but the merguez were disappointing.

During the month of Ramadan, which ended recently, Green's was supposed to be serving harira only (a thick Moroccan soup), which is the traditional North African dish for breaking one's fast, but it turns out that the one of the owners' mom came over from Tunisia and was cooking couscous every day. She is still around at the moment, and is cooking couscous every other day or so (I called them and they will have it tonight, so I suspect they'll also have it on both Wednesday and Friday this week).

- Dunes Grill, 606 Geary St (at Jones), 415-929-1320, open daily from 11:30am to 11pm.

This restaurant is owned by the people from the Halal butcher next door. The nice thing about this place is that their menu consists of mostly North African food, so they serve it every day and don't tend to run out. The couscous comes in three versions: vegetarian ($8.25), lamb (vegetables and stewed lamb,$9.50) and Royal (vegetables, stewed lamb, grilled chicken and merguez, $12.75). Like the ones at Green, the merguez here were not very compelling. I suspect it's because the Marcel & Henri merguez, which are the best ones available locally, are not halal, so these restaurants have to use another source which is not as good. The couscous is again a vegetables and stewed lamb brothy stew served on top of semolina. Here, they also give you an extra bowl of broth so that you can add it to your plate according to your personal taste. This couscous is very good, but I still prefer Green's version personally.

Dunes also has a tagine special which changes every day. The first time I was there, they had a chicken and white bean tagine which was excellent, very comforting and satisfying. The next time they had a much less successful lamb with peas tagine that was too sweet and not particulaly flavorful. They also serve other North African specilaties like harira soup, mint tea, baklawa (which is quite ordinary), and various appetizers. Overall, a nice addition to the SF dining scene.


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