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This sunny Polk Gulch-corner restaurant, rambling and easy to spend hours in, is San Francisco's only Tunisian restaurant, which owner Najib brackets with Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes: Bright vegetable salads, turmeric-colored harira (lentil stew), and chakchouka, a tangle of caramelized onions and peppers topped with merguez and a fried egg. The couscous at Cafe Zitouna is a simple affair, the mound of semolina rising out of a thin, fiery broth with great chunks of vegetables and your choice of meat. Because the restaurant is halal, sweet mint-infused tea is the beverage of choise, and if you spot a tray of Najib's harissa (semolina cake) soaked in orange-blossom water, order at least one piece.
San Francisco has three times the number of halal restaurants -- Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Turkish, Chinese -- it did a decade ago. Muslim diners can find pizza and burritos now, as well as shawerma and seekh kabobs. But it's hard to eat certified halal as well as you do at Cafe Zitouna. The flavors of Najib Rebia's harira (lentil soup) and Moroccan tajines are lilting and complex. His Tunisian fare brings on the spice, whether it's the chiles that make his couscous platters glow,... More »
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