El Mansour: Transporting Customers Back To Morocco

Above: Belly Dancer Brenna Weiber dances for diners at El Mansour in San Francisco, Calif. on May 12th, 2018.

In 1975, El Mansour became the second Moroccan restaurant to open in San Francisco. Now under the current ownership of Soufiane Gmira and Jack Tanverakul, El Mansour has been serving the people of the Bay Area for over 43 years.

El Mansour not only provides its guests with authentic Moroccan food but also a fun  atmosphere to make them feel like they’re actually in Morocco. The San Francisco Chronicle even named El Mansour one of the city’s funnest restaurants.

Entertainment at El Mansour includes nightly belly dancing shows. “We have a different performer every night,” says Gmira. “They all come from very different backgrounds from Brazilian to Arabic to Italian.”

Almost all of El Mansour’s decor comes directly from Morocco. This includes the handmade tiles, mattresses, velvet fabric on the walls, and even the woodwork in the ceiling.

“[The decor] really transports you back to Morocco,” Gmira explains.

One of the most popular items on El Mansour’s menu is the Bastela du Chef, which is essentially a Moroccan meat-filled pastry.

“We make [the pastry dough] from scratch, which is very labor intensive and it takes a long time to make but we make it daily,” says Gmira. “We wrap it around Moroccan chicken and add a blend of Moroccan spices. It has all these flavors of sweet and savory and crunchy.”

Customers are also quick to praise the lamb, which is slow-cooked for several hours so that it falls right off the bone. No knife required. 

Another popular item is the couscous, which is a pasta-like dish that consists of steamed balls made from crushed durum wheat semolina. Gmira emphasizes that couscous is one of the more popular Moroccan dishes in America, so it is served with all of El Mansour’s specialty items. 

Struggling Through COVID-19

Unlike many restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, El Mansour has not been able to implement a to-go service. However, Gmira and Tanverakul are still proactively planning for the restaurant’s reopening.

“We’re just waiting on the greenlight to reopen,” says Gmira. “We’ll just do whatever we are told we have to do.”

Currently, El Mansour plans to reopen on July 14. Gmira and Tanverakul hope to also be able to bring back the nightly shows for their guests and continue to provide the authentic Moroccan experience that’s made the restaurant a staple in the Bay Area.

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