So, you’re in Essaouira for a few days. You’re adventurous and your taste buds are tired of the mostly similar Moroccan fare you’ve eaten so far in Casablanca, Fez and even Marrakesh. You might be with a group and have the afternoon to yourself or perhaps traveling alone or with your partner. Any way you slice it, by the time you get to the beautiful Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira, you’re likely going to be craving something a bit different than the Moroccan fare you’ve been treated to thus far, though you’ll want to search out for something authentic at the same time. Today, I’m letting my secret out of the places I love to dine at while traveling Morocco and telling you all about my secret eateries of Essaouira. I hope these restaurants in Essaouira serve you as well as they have served me! Bon appétit!
Secret Eateries of Essaouira
La Petite Perle (2 Rue El Hajjali)
Having already eaten something anonymous at another restaurant which had been recommended and whose name I have gladly forgotten, I desperately needed culinary satisfaction when I arrived at La Petite Perl. They did not disappoint.
The first thing I noticed about La Petite Perle was its unusual interior: A long room, the walls of which are covered with wood wainscoting, rugs, and paintings, making it feel very cozy. Comfortable cushion seating lines the sides of this decorated tunnel so that when it’s full, as it was when I visited, entering feels a bit like you’re stepping onto the runway of a Moroccan fashion show.
The menu is traditional Moroccan. My delicious chicken b’stilla was sizable, not overly sweet, and was served with mint leaves, which were a really nice counterpoint to the sugar and cinnamon. It’s something I now wish all restaurants did. I spoke with several other customers, and all were happy with their various tagines and brochettes. Prices are average (around 150 dirhams) and the service is excellent.
Riad Chbanate (179 Rue Chbanate)
Many riads offer dinner and chances are good that yours will offer it too, but it probably won’t be as memorable as what you’ll get at Riad Chbanate. The secret? You don’t have to be a guest to eat there! Show up by late morning and sit down with the chef to discuss what you’d like. Then they’ll shop for everything and prepare the dinner of your choice — Moroccan-inspired but not necessarily traditional — with entirely fresh ingredients. You’ll be seated in their courtyard or by the indoor fireplace for a deliciously romantic multi-course dinner complete with candles, relaxing music and a solid selection of wines to choose from.
The price is 150-250 dirhams euros per person (wine not included), depending on the menu you choose.
Triskala Restaurant (58 Rue Touahen)
Decorated in an eclectic mix of traditional stone, modern art and classic movie and music posters, Triskala is the perfect place for a relaxed, inexpensive lunch. It’s off the main medina thoroughfares and most of the patrons seem to be expats rather than tourists. The menu is simple: two 2-course options daily, one with meat and one vegetarian. The day I was there the choices were seafood b’stilla for 75Dh and falafel with veggies for 55Dh. Both came with a generous beet salad and dessert was 15Dh extra.
Ristorante Sylvestro (70 Rue Laalouj, across from the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah museum)
If you haven’t craved a break from Moroccan food, you haven’t been in Morocco long enough. Syvestro, sharing the name with its owner, will make you feel like you’ve taken an evening’s vacation from your vacation. Climbing a flight of nondescript stairs, you enter into an Old-World haven of boldly flowered wallpaper neatly hiding its tiled and stone-arched Moroccan skeleton. Songs by Frank Sinatra and other icons of Italian-American music play in the background. During my visit, an old man who turned out to be Sylvestro’s father, visiting from Milan, spent the evening seated by the pizza oven with a toothpick hanging out of his mouth.
The menu is pure Italy, reflecting the Milano background of Sylvestro himself, who ran a restaurant there before moving to Essaouira 15 years ago. My tagliatelli with prawns and zucchini was generous and satisfying. There’s a good selection of wines there, along with aperitif and digestif specialties like the excellent limoncello I had. My dinner with salad, entrée, a glass of wine and the limoncello was under 200Dh.
Chez Karim (ben Laghazi) and Café Berbere (Rue Tanger)
You’ve had your break from Moroccan cooking. Now you want an adventure, but the local restaurants look a bit… well, let’s just say that most tourists avoid them. Why not look past the ugly décor and go to either Chez Karim or the very similar Café Berbere, which is run by Karim’s brother Rachid. I was the only foreigner at Chez Karim and sat down next to a big Moroccan family. You can either bring the restaurant what you’ve bought that day at the local fish mongers and they’ll cook it for you, or you can tell them what you want and they’ll buy it all fresh and prepare it – the latter being much easier, of course.
You discuss the price, pay in advance and tell them what time you’d like to come back to eat. Keep in mind that if you want something like lamb tagine, the more time they have to cook it the more tender it will be, so allow at least 4 hours for shopping and cooking. I wanted grilled fish and shrimp, which takes far less time. For 80Dh, Karim bought and grilled a 1-pound dorado and about 1-pound of shrimp and served it along with tomato salad, a bottle of soda and the usual bread and olives. Everything was delicious. I have it on good authority that his tagines are amazing and that Café Berbere is at least as good as his brother’s restaurant, Chez Karim.
The Fish and Spice Market (Souk Jdid)
Similar to the better-known lunch experience at the port, you can do the same thing for less money here. Just off Souk Jdid, looking to the left with your back to the sea, there are a couple of entrances to a semi-hidden square containing a fish market surrounded by spice shops. Buy the seafood you want for lunch — you may have to negotiate to get the best price — and bring it into the hopping restaurant in the corner of the square where they’ll grill and serve it with bread and olives. For a little more money you can add tomato salad and French fries. It doesn’t get any fresher than this! You can have a great lunch here for around 50dh.
Mike’s tip: Walk all the way to the back-left corner of the café and ask for Ayoub or Tariq, “Les Deux Fréres.” They’ll go out into the market with you, help you decide what and how much you want and you will get you a fair price.
Restaurant La Mama (Place Chrib Atay off Rue Zayan, upstairs)
In the evening, you’ll probably find a hawker on the corner nearby, inviting you in for music. Take him up on it! If you’d like local, live music with your dinner, or après-dinner tea, this is a wonderful spot to visit. The atmosphere is fun and authentically Essaouira-hip. The food is organic, delicious and cheap, ranging from tagines to pizza to juice cocktails. Every night has different musicians, though the restaurant usually alternates nights between modern and gnawa-inspired. The musicians play for tips, so it helps to bring a little change. 100dh, more or less.
Do you have a favorite secret eatery in Essaouira? Drop us a line and let us know!
About the Author
Since retiring in late 2016 from a career in IT, Mike Bernhardt has been visiting other cultures and writing about what he finds. When he’s not traveling he cooks international cuisine, plays his guitar, and on rainy days assists itinerant earthworms to cross the road.
You can read about his adventures at travelingwithmikeandyvonne.com.