Escape to Morocco at Simon's Cafe

The 4500 block of Sepulveda Boulevard, just south of Ventura Boulevard, is an international respite of sorts, with restaurants serving Japanese, Italian, Indian and Moroccan cuisine. From my viewpoint, the most interesting and unusual is the latter. Simon’s Café, under the helm of owner/chef Simon Elmaleh, has been serving up authentic Moroccan dishes in the […]

The 4500 block of Sepulveda Boulevard, just south of Ventura Boulevard, is an international respite of sorts, with restaurants serving Japanese, Italian, Indian and Moroccan cuisine. From my viewpoint, the most interesting and unusual is the latter. Simon’s Café, under the helm of owner/chef Simon Elmaleh, has been serving up authentic Moroccan dishes in the location for 13 years.

The small eatery is sparsely decorated with memorabilia, photos, posters, tapestries and shelves lined with serving dishes. There’s nothing fancy—just supremely authentic cooking and a most amenable host.

Simon seems to run around the restaurant multi-tasking as cook and server as well. As he scurries around making sure customers are satisfied, he also attends to water glasses by dramatically pouring water from high to low in a fun, theatrical display.

The central focus of the menu is on the tagines and couscous served in traditional clay pots. They taste exactly what you’d expect of a Moroccan grandmother—meaning exotic comfort food.

Tagine choices include lamb, beef, chicken with tomato and olives, and chicken with dried fruit. Each comes with a choice of saffron rice or vegetables. It is worth it to go for the rice, as it soaks up the sauce of the tagine. No room for dieting here if you want the full experience.

An excellent dish to share (and quite the deal at $24.95) is the couscous royale that comes with three plates (vegetables in broth, couscous and grilled merguez sausage, lamb and chicken brochettes) that you mix together into one pot.

There’s an array of appetizers from which to choose. Try the combo plate to get a taste of hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant tahini), matbouha (tomato salad), zaalouk (eggplant and tomato) and falafel. The hummus is among the best I’ve ever tasted, prepared with freshly ground garbanzo beans into a thick paste, while the falafels are sublime, fluffy balls with a perfect moist bite.  Also, appetizers made from thin pastry dough are decadent and worthy: chicken feuillete  (filled with ground chicken fried crispy); cheese borek (filled with three kinds of cheeses); pastilla (also known as bestilla—ground chicken and duck wrapped in filo and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar).

Entrée selections include grilled plates of lamb, chicken, beef, sausage and chicken schnitzel, accompanied by saffron rice, fries and vegetables with couscous, as well as a traditional Moroccan salmon cooked with tomato, garlic and olives. Simon is happy to give suggestions about what to order and how much. It’s really his dining room, and he is a most gracious host.  

Complete your meal with homemade desserts, such as Kadaif (shredded phyllo dough, walnuts and a sweet syrup) or Basbousa (semolina and nuts) and Turkish coffee.

Be patient with the speed of service, as everything is made fresh to order and the kitchen is small. Anyhow, you’ll want to savor your meal. It’s really that good.

Simon’s Café, 4515 Sepulveda Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-783-6698 (metered parking in a large lot behind the restaurants). Open Tuesday to Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and for lunch on Friday only.  Wine and cocktails also served.

Owner Simon Elmaleh

Falafel with baba ganoush

Chicken Tagine with dried fruits and saffron rice

Hummus with fresh pita

Israeli salad

Kadaif dessert

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