Overshadowed culturally in the eyes of the West by Marrakech, Fez and Tangiers, and in urban sprawl of Casablanca, it’s easy to forget that Rabat is Morocco’s capital city. And yet the centre – a UNESCO world heritage site – contains an extensive medieval Medina, a stunning riverside Kasbah, a grandiose French-designed nouvelle ville, all with the facilities and institutions worthy of an international capital. These ten must-try restaurants reflect Rabat’s immense cultural heritage.
Dinarjat doesn’t just serve some of the best traditional Moroccan food in town; it offers one of the Rabat’s most novel experiences altogether. To visit, you must follow a robed, lantern-bearing guide from the Medina’s gates, winding through the labyrinthine alleys until you are conveyed through an ornate carved door. Inside, you’ll find a beautiful 17th century mansion filled with contemporary leather divans and velvet armchairs. Dinarjat is one of the few authentic Moroccan restaurants that allows you to choose your own dishes from a menu. The choices – tajines, couscous, salads – are crisp and light, with fresh ingredients from the local markets. The delicate music of oud players will serenade you as you dine. Bookings are essential.
Dinarjat, 6 Rue Belgnaoui, Medina, Rabat, Morocco, +212 37 70 42 39
Ch’hiwates du terroir
Although it only opened in spring 2014, Ch’hiwates du terroir has already made its mark on the Rabat restaurant scene. Open only until the early evening, Ch’hiwates is the perfect place for all manner of late breakfasts and lunches. Its menu draws inspiration from the slow food movement, and uses only organic ingredients. The atmosphere is light and breezy, with incredibly friendly service. Even more remarkably, it is one of the few places in Rabat that offers contemporized takes of traditional Moroccan favourites. Meat-eaters should try the semolina-stuffed chicken or the squid taktouka (tomato and pepper salad) with lemon confit, while vegetarians are well served with an array of creative couscous plates.
Ch’hiwates du terroir, 7 Rue d’Oran, Hassan, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 26 26 28
Samaky – named for its prize ingredient – is Rabat’s finest fish and seafood restaurant. Traditional Moroccan salads and tajines, usually made with lamb or chicken, are prepared here with shrimp and calamari. The fried fish and mussels befit Rabat’s status as an historic port city, while the meat kebabs and vegetarian salads use quality ingredients. The service is famously courteous, with waiters happy to talk extensively over the menu and cater to their guests’ every desire. The interior is simple and pleasant, with nautical touches, a large open kitchen and a spacious outdoor dining area.
Samaky, Corner of Avenue Med. Zerktouni and Avenue sidi Med. Benabdelalah, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 69 48 29
Le Grand Comptoir
Somewhere between an old Parisian brassiere and a chic New York cocktail bar, Le Grand Comptoir is one of Rabat’s most sumptuous bistros. Set in a well-restored 1930s art deco building, it’s a favourite of the city’s most glamorous residents. The food is seasonal, with a strong focus on offal – veal lungs and tripe sausages are a recurring offering – and fine meat cuts. The fish, including fried red mullet and fillets of John Dory, is particularly enticing. From Wednesday to the end of the week diners are treated to an array of live music, from an old-fashioned pianist to live bands and jazz acts. On Saturdays, the bistro is transformed into a vibrant party spot, with live music and DJs.
Le Grand Comptoir, 279 Avenue Mohammed V, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 20 15 14
Over the past few years, Cosmopolitan – located just outside the Medina, near the Bab Rouah – has established itself as one of Rabat’s finest contemporary French restaurants. Located within an art deco villa, guests can chose to relax in the restored interior or sit on the terrace overlooking the historical Tazi Palace. Chef Bernard Esquirol’s fare is French with a rustic Pyrenean touch. The menu includes sea bream with garlic chips, vinegar and traditional Basque piperade (onions, peppers and tomatoes, sautéed with Espelette chili) and duck brochettes with delicious caramelised apples. For desert, indulge in a marquise au chocolat or a tarte tatin.
Cosmopolitan, Avenue Ibn Toumerte, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 20 00 28
As its name suggests, Il Giardino is both one of Rabat’s best Italian restaurants and one of its finest al fresco dining spots. Possibly the only Italian eatery in town where you’re likely to find many Italian residents, the menu focuses on Sicilian cuisine. Consequently, fish and seafood is particularly fine; swordfish steaks with olives and capers, orange-dressed salmon and grilled John Dory regularly feature on the menu. For those craving classic mainland fare, there is a wide variety of pasta dishes and freshly prepared pizza. The ample garden, which sits under hue palm trees, is particularly magical on a summer’s eve.
Il Giardino, 2 Avenue Ahmed El Yazidi, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 70 70 31
Sitting on the river mouth below the spectacular Kasbah of the Udayas, Le Dhow is Rabat’s premier floating restaurant. Set within a replica of an old Moroccan merchant vessel, its wooden fittings and low ceilings are elegant rather than kitschy. The food is a mixture of traditional and contemporary French, focusing on fine cuts of meat – fillets of veal, racks of lamb and steak cooked to perfection. Alongside the dining room, there is a comfortable coffee shop, a cushion-filled Sun Deck and a lounge for evening concerts and events. Second only to the food is the view from the rooftop deck, which looks out to the Kasbah.
Le Dhow, Avenue al Marsa, Rabat, Morocco, +212 05 35 70 23 02
Le Petit Beur
In a city not short on superb traditional food in glorious historical settings, there’s a reason that Le Petit Beur fills every evening. Set within in a small room near the Rabat Ville train station, its refined zellige tile-work and serene atmosphere gives the restaurant a homely, intimate feel. All the Moroccan classics are served, including perfect pastilla (flaky pigeon pie, topped with almonds) and succulent boulfaf (skewered lamb). The chicken tajine contains zesty lemon peel, the lamb tajine fragrant fennel and the beef tajine sensational prunes. The waiters, who double up as musicians each night, are masters of multi-tasking and inspire a community atmosphere among customers. Book or arrive early to secure a table.
Le Petit Beur, 8 Rue Damas, Rabat, Morocco, +212 5 37 73 13 22
Le Ziryab has long been Dinarjat’s rival for the title of Rabat’s most popular traditional restaurant. Similarly set within a grandiose riad in the chaotic network of the old town, and similarly reached by following a lantern-bearing guide, Le Ziryab serves many of the same dishes but with its own modern twists. Make sure to visit with an empty stomach – the set menu includes five courses, starting with an array of salads and finishing with sticky orange pastries, Moroccan biscuits and mint tea. Traditional singers, musicians and dancers provide entertainment, while the service is polite and attentive. Sit on the terrace for excellent views of both Medina and Kasbah.
Le Ziryab, Rue des Consuls, 10 Impasse Ennajar, Medina, Morocco, +212 37 73 36 36
Despite Morocco’s location at the northwest tip of Africa, it has long seen itself as part of the Arab world. Indeed, its Arabic name translates as ‘Kingdom of the West’, casting itself as the furthest extreme of Islamic culture. It’s no surprise, then, that Middle Eastern food is well-represented in Rabat, and Yamal Acham is the best of them all. Specialising in the flavours of Syria, diners can sample an assortment of kebabs, shawarma and mince dishes, plus a diverse selection of daily specials. To start, try the kebba, bulghur shells filled with spiced minced lamb, accompanied with dips such as mhamara (spicy red pepper) or mutabal (aubergine).
Yamal Acham, 5 Rue Al Maghrib Al Arabi, Rabat, Morocco, +202 5 37 72 02 76