Though brothers Abdel Malek and Zakaria Belghiti Alaoui only opened their Moroccan restaurant Tajine (333 Cordova Road, (505) 372-7885) four months ago, it already serves up a standout experience and is a must-dine option for vegetarians and fans of international fare.
For Santa Fe’s size, we’re awfully spoiled with restaurant choices (chalk that up to a robust tourism scene, maybe?), but as any vegan or vegetarian will tell you, the options become fewer the longer one shirks meat (hope you like bread and cheese; good luck, vegans!). No matter, though, because even dedicated carnivores will find plenty to love at the Belghiti Alaouis’ spot, which is nestled deep within wellness/clothing biz BODY of Santa Fe on Cordova Road; just walk on in and head to the back.
Tajine is so good, in fact, I visited twice in a week—once with a pair of companions with a penchant for international foods, and again with a longtime pal who generally leans toward meat, but who still loved it. For now, Tajine is a minimal affair with a scant few tables and a spartan kitchen manned by a small staff. Still, the menu has a lot going on, from cheese boards ($14-$30) with all sorts of options like figs, honeycomb and seasonal fruit, to smoothies, juices and teas ($8-$11) and more. The item that got away, as it were, was a collard greens burrito served with pumpkin seeds and sunflower salsa, but I’ll consider it a reason to return.
Or, to put it another way, I need everyone to patronize Tajine so it sticks around. According to our server, Maddy—a font of knowledge and kindness—the owners, who indeed hail from Morocco, have their sights set on growth. If the reception from the community thus far is any indication, that seems likely. For now, though, even four months in, the brothers are considering the current run a semi-soft opening, and it’s working. Chances are you’ve had Abdel Malek’s food before, too, our server said—he cooked at Mediterranean joint Pyramid Café just across the street from his new enterprise for years. At Tajine, though, it seems he’s finding himself. The menu feels more playful than at Pyramid, perhaps even experimental. Here, the brothers are free to include whatever they wish, and part of the fun in that is teaching Santa Fe diners about new types of cuisine or, at the very least, dishes we’ve not often seen on local menus.
Of course, for my first visit, I zeroed in on the falafel sandwich ($15), an air-fried number bursting with fresh veggies, cornichon, hummus and tahini. In some spheres, falafel is tantamount to a burger in restaurants that serve American fare—if a kitchen can’t nail it, what are we even doing there? The mixed green side salad was so fresh, too, that it practically fixed my weird Christmastime trash food gut. During my second visit, I learned from Abdel Malek that every single thing on the menu is organic, and that if an item can be sourced locally, it is. On the first visit, all I knew was that Tajine’s falafel gives the others in town a run for their money, both in terms of its crispy exterior and its flavorful interior that truly comes alive when one catches bright notes from the cornichon and the richness of the tahini.
My companions on that first visit sampled the slow cooked tajine for two ($27), a compilation of veggies and garlic with saffron and fresh herbs cooked within the namesake tajine, an earthenware pot they bring to the table and open before your eyes. That little bit of razzle dazzle is weirdly so fun for being such a small thing, and the dish sizzles when opened while emitting an intriguing array of aromas. Abdel Malek’s cheffing techniques prove to be masterful when it comes to properly cooking veggies, too: not too soft, not too hard (sung to the tune of Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly”). For the side, diners can choose from rice, quinoa or pita. My friends chose quinoa, which was heavenly, and the meal came with a side of harissa, a semi-spicy chili paste made with roasted red peppers and various herbs and spices. I’d never had harissa before, and now I want it on literally everything savory I’ll ever eat.
Cut to a few days later, and I simply had to sample Tajine’s tajine for myself—solo diners will be glad to know it’s available for one—and I also had to try the ras el hanout coffee, a complex and flavorful treat crafted with ginger, clove, anise, nutmeg and cinnamon.
For my main course, I selected the daily special, one of two rotating tajine dishes with a savory bent (the other skews sweeter and includes apricots and assorted other fruits) including potatoes both sweet and not, plus zucchini and expertly executed Brussels sprouts ($17). On our server’s advice, I also added a bit of fake chicken made from mushrooms ($6 additional charge), a sublime taste and texture counterpoint to the tender vegetables. My companion’s falafel sandwich was reportedly excellent, too, every bit as good as the first visit, maybe even better.
Dessert is a must, too, and Tajine has three options, including the chocolate tam’ra, a medjool date covered in dark chocolate with walnut, almond and pistachio ($8), as well as the vegan bougatsa, a custard dish with philo, dates, cinnamon, orange blossom and rose water ($13). We ultimately settled on the coconut chia pudding with a bit of maple syrup plus fresh strawberries and blueberries. The chia seed added an intensely pleasant texture, while the subtle sweetness of the syrup and fruit left us feeling sated but not over-sugared. As such, Tajine might have become my favorite local restaurant. Do yourselves a favor and find out why ASAP.