Al Zohour - Moroccan (Yes, Moroccan) in Phoenix

Good eating in the Valley of the Sun
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

It's not normally his strong suit, but big ups to Seftel for this one:

Alzohour restaurant in Phoenix, 3.5 Stars

Hotdish and I are going to go off-hours and check it out. Even if it's just okay, that's a big find.

Incidentally, let's please note for the record that this place has been around for over a decade. Keep digging, people! This stuff is out there!

Al Zohour
7814 N. 27th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85051
602-433-5191
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Dominic Armato
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BarbaraToombs
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6 years ago

Wow...that sounds FANTASTIC!! Excited about this...please report back soonest...dying to try it out (even though it's quite a hike for me, sounds well worth it). Although, like Seftel says, I'd hate to bombard her with a Foodnik Friday crowd right away...but dibs on the next trip!!! :)
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Lunchbox
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6 years ago

Howard Seftel wrote:The last thing Zhor Saad needs is to have the Valley’s ethnic foodies stampeding into Alzohour, her modest Middle Eastern clothing store/grocery/restaurant.
Do you feel like he's talking to us, specifically? :lol:
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Lunchbox wrote:
Howard Seftel wrote:The last thing Zhor Saad needs is to have the Valley’s ethnic foodies stampeding into Alzohour, her modest Middle Eastern clothing store/grocery/restaurant.
Do you feel like he's talking to us, specifically? :lol:
If he is, I choose to ignore him :-)

There was only one other table -- just leaving -- when we arrived at 1:15. But to be fair, I see exactly where he's coming from. It was just her today, running the restaurant and the market all by herself, and mains took close to an hour to come out even though we were the only table (so worth the wait). So if there's a crowd I can see how it could quickly become a total disaster. I told her it's going to get busy, and we should definitely try not to hit them too hard.

Anyway, azhotdish, Mike Todd and I stopped in for an intentionally late lunch today. It's as described above -- a handful of tables barely separated from the market by a half wall, cozy/cramped depending on your point of view... you get the idea. We got three dishes intentionally, one by accident ("mint tea" and "mendi" can sound awfully similar if you don't enunciate).
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Salad
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All of the mains come with a little salad. It's a little salad. But it's a nice little salad, fresh and tart with a ton of parsley.
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Kashkbademjan
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We tried the kashkbademjan to start, and I'm going to need a little practice pronouncing this one. I think it's Persian, actually -- the menu's a bit of a mix of North African and a few Middle Eastern traditions -- and it's a roasted eggplant spread variant, topped here with hot olive oil, chopped nuts of some kind (pine nuts?), and dried mint. Very nice, garlicky... tasty stuff.
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Mendi
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This one was the accident. Mike ordered mint tea, and she heard Mendi. I think mint tea is usually an after-meal thing in Morocco, which might also explain the confusion (though I'm not certain about that). Anyway, it's a big ol' chunk of lamb, braised to an absurd level of tenderness. This one isn't terribly aromatic. It's really rich and meaty. I don't remember which of the other fellows half-jokingly referred to it as Moroccan pot roast. This is not a complex dish, but it is very, very delicious, and I'd be more excited about it if it weren't for...
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Lamb Tagine
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...the lamb tagine, which was in the same neighborhood, but wow, there's the complexity. Seriously, this is about as good as braised meat gets. A great chunk of lamb, all kinds of haphazardly chopped, a little meat, a little fat, a little bone, a little stuff, and it was wet-roasted in an absolutely wonderful sauce with a mix of spices that wasn't overly heavy but was very complex. It was rich and fragrant and sweet, topped with toasted almonds and sweet braised prunes... just wow. Absolutely killer.
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Bastilla
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I got the giggles. Back in my formative teenage years of learning to really appreciate international cuisines, this was one of my favorites. And I love it so much. And I haven't had it in years. And oh man, this was so wonderful. It's a heavily spiced ground chicken and almond mix with more spices that I could even begin to name, wrapped and baked in phyllo, and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
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Bastilla (Interior)
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Beyond the texture, it's that sweet/savory crossover thing that gets me. I freaking adore this dish, and this is a really, really good one. I know I haven't died and gone to heaven because if I had it would be made with squab instead of chicken, but man, I'm so thrilled with this just as it is.

This is a big winner, guys. Kudos to Seftel on a fabulous find. I'll put together a PDF of the menu and attach it to the OP shortly, and expect a Foodnik Friday soon. But we'll have to cap it and pre-arrange everything. Like I say, I think Seftel's right in that these guys could get completely buried in a hurry. But man, another really exciting find. Please, for the love of god people, keep looking for these places, because they're out there. Speaking of which, hotdish and I were talking this over on the way home, and our annoyance that we only just learned about Alzohour, and we're hatching a plan to make a targeted effort to find places like this. Details soon.
Dominic Armato
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6 years ago

Lunchbox wrote:
Howard Seftel wrote:The last thing Zhor Saad needs is to have the Valley’s ethnic foodies stampeding into Alzohour, her modest Middle Eastern clothing store/grocery/restaurant.
Do you feel like he's talking to us, specifically? :lol:
I was thinking the same exact thing.
Man this place sounds awesome.
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Whoa, man... I'm going to let you guys get started (trying to get packed and out of town), but this was at least as good if not better than our first meal. Absolutely outstanding find.

I'll jump in later... excited to hear what everybody else thought!
Dominic Armato
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Okay, slackers... :-)

I'm even more excited about this place now than I was after the first visit. Every bit as good as our first trip, if not better. This is some seriously intense, densely layered, flavorful stuff, and though I'd love to be shown otherwise, I don't know anybody else in town who's doing this food.
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Chicken Tagine
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In ordering, I tried to stick to the Moroccan items on the menu. We did the lamb tagine and the bastilla again, and a couple of other tagines as well, including the chicken. And it's so incredibly flavorful, with preserved lemons and olives, touch of saffron I think... classic Moroccan treatment, and so, so well done.
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Couscous
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I remember this! I'd forgotten it, it's been so long since I had Moroccan. But I love this, with the big chunks of roasted vegetables, a lamb shank in the center (I didn't quite get to that part), and very, very finely textured couscous -- tiny little specks that still maintain their own shape, making for this delightful texture.
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Cod Tagine
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This was my big winner on the day, though. I don't even know where to begin describing it. I mean, I know where to begin -- tomato, preserved lemon, heavy bell pepper flavor -- but the spices go from there, and man, I have no clue what's in it. All I know is that it was a generous plate of tender, flaky cod bathed in this absurdly aromatic tomato-based sauce, so many flavors coming from every direction, and... wow. Outstanding dish.

I was chatting with Zhor a little bit after lunch, and she said it's definitely been busier since Seftel's article dropped, though she said it usually gets busy around 3:00 in the afternoon and then runs through the night -- often until midnight. Which leads me to believe that it's primarily expats she's drawing in rather than longtime locals. Those aren't Phoenix dining hours. I'm speculating, though. In any case, they're doing well enough that it sounds like they're considering expanding the restaurant -- not into a new space, but they're considering rearranging the space they're in to devote more of it to the restaurant. I hope it happens, and I hope these guys are wildly successful.
Dominic Armato
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6 years ago

I will be honest I was laying back because I had no idea where to start. Everything was so incredibly amazing. I would have to echo Dom on the Cod Tagine dish. It was truly amazing and I really would not have expected it to be the highlight of the meal.

My second favorite and perhaps the most unique was the Bastilla. I really have no idea what is in this thing aside from chicken, almonds, phyllo, powdered sugar, and cinnamon but honestly I do not care all I know is that is both unique and delicious.

I would rate most everything else as excellent but those two were the stand out items for me. Though I would have to mention I was surprised at how great the Chicken was. I had rather low expectations for it after trying everything else and it managed to deliver as well or better than most of the other items.

I have to admit having the order already pre-set made a would of difference I suspect as everything was pretty much ready to go for us when we got there. The table was empty one minutes and then hilariously bursting with food the next. There were an awful lot of plates everywhere. It was fortunate for us that there was not anyone sitting around us or they would have been quite annoyed with our sprawling out to other tables to hold all the items.
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BarbaraToombs
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6 years ago

Hey, Dom...we were waiting for you to post what we knew were the best pics of the day!

This was one of the best Foodnik Friday meals I think I've ever had...and that's saying a lot. Having never had Moroccan food before, I was dying to try this, and was blown away by how delicious and flavorful everything was. Hard to describe it to someone, really...and trust me, I've tried since then, but it's easier to just say, "You gotta try it."

That Bastilla was the most interesting dish I've ever had...somewhat sweet, somewhat savory, but every bit delicious!

Really not a bad thing to say about any dish. The Cod Tagine was my definite favorite, but the Chicken Tagine was so surprisingly tender and moist, deep flavors...and the lamb was really tender as well. Loved the cous-cous ... great accompaniment to everything.

I would probably go there quite frequently, if it weren't so darn far away from me! Bonus bit of the lunch: watching "Arab Idol" as we ate. Who knew? :)
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6 years ago

Well I hate to sound like a broken record but the B'stilla and the Cod Tangine were my all time favorites yet not a single bite disappointed and I loved the Lamb cous cous too. The pistachio baklava I took home (1 piece is actually 2 nice sized triangles) was perfectly baked, not too fried and not too sweet with loads of pistachio and spices.

Look, I have to confess, I loved the place so much when asked where I wanted to go for my birthday lunch tomorrow I said al Zohour! And I want B'stilla and Cod Tangine! Yes we're going and I' am going to call ahead later today just in case it helps her out a bit. It is going to be a small group so I can't promise I'll try anything new but if I do I'll report back. Best birthday lunch ever, coming up.
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6 years ago

Dom, I just talked Ms. Zaad and ordered that Roasted Vegetable Salad with Preserved Lemons she told us about at the register. I will try to take a decent photo and am looking forward to having something new to report back on!
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BarbaraToombs
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6 years ago

Enjoy your birthday lunch, Suzanne!! Jealous...want a full report!
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6 years ago

So I've been dragging my feet hoping my cohort Tracy would post the photo's we took as I know she fully intends to do when her schedule allows. It was a small but totally delightful party of two so we only ordered the Roasted Vegetable Salad with Preserved Lemon, the Lamb Couscous & the Cod Tangine. I didn't eat any bread the first time and I must say I am glad I didn't know about it. Piping hot and crusty on the outside with flecks of caraway? I think caraway seed on the inside. We did a great deal of dunking into the delicious juices of the roasted veg salad, which consisted of red and green roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes and preserved lemons. It was lightly dressed but I didn’t think to ask how as we were starving and it looked so mouth watering we dove in before snapping a photo. Ms. Saad (who now insists we call her Zohour, her first name) had graciously split the salad in two and it was still too very large portions. I would recommend splitting it four ways to savor but still save room for all the deliciousness to come. I do know that this salad needs to be ordered a day in advance as well.

The cod tangine did not fail to disappoint and I must admit was even better the next day for lunch…me, who never takes leftovers. Tracy reported this morning that they put the last of their lamb shank on their homemade pizzas last night and that it was mighty tasty.

The absolute star of the meal for me was the surprise dessert Zohour brought out for my birthday treat. Kunafa (or Kunafeh http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh ) where have you been all my life? It had a bunch of stuff going on. Warm out of the oven, it had crispy noodle threads on the outside, and covered with fresh ground pistachios. The outer parts of the inside was a syrup soaked sponge type cake made out of semolina and there was a creamy sweet almost ricotta-like (but smooth like cream cheese) cheese in the middle, which we didn’t hit until a few bites from each side. Omg this dessert had it going on!!!! I am pretty sure we forgot to take pictures.

On a funny note, Tracy’s A/C has been out for a few days and she had to get back to meet the repair man. Zohour spent a great deal of time answering a zillion questions we asked about all the different types/methods of preserved lemons, etc. and when we finished chatting I thought I had conveyed that we were ready for the bill. We waited for the bill and after quite a while we went looking for Ms. Saad and realized she had left the building. Indeed earlier she had rushed through clutching paperwork and saying something about her landlord. We were alone in the building for maybe 15-20 minutes before she came charging back in and joking about “going swimming”, perhaps a joke about the heat? What a powerhouse of energy. We had a blast talking to her and she told me that she is never worried about crowds and that often at night there is a line outside and a long wait. Just thought I’d mention that she didn’t seem too worried about being overrun. The nice gentlemen that helped her last time we went was there and chatted with us. As it turns out he has a degree in Agriculture so of course we talked about growing food. I cannot wait to go back with enough folks to order the B’stilla, as it serves 8 people easily. Next week would be just fine with me!
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6 years ago

Desert Gal wrote: The absolute star of the meal for me was the surprise dessert Zohour brought out for my birthday treat. Kunafa (or Kunafeh http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh ) where have you been all my life? It had a bunch of stuff going on. Warm out of the oven, it had crispy noodle threads on the outside, and covered with fresh ground pistachios. The outer parts of the inside was a syrup soaked sponge type cake made out of semolina and there was a creamy sweet almost ricotta-like (but smooth like cream cheese) cheese in the middle, which we didn’t hit until a few bites from each side. Omg this dessert had it going on!!!! I am pretty sure we forgot to take pictures.
That sounds awesome...

And to pile on to what's been said already, great FF lunch... Mrs. Lunchbox wants me to take her for the cod sometime... Great dish... What surprised me most was that I liked the chicken probably the best... I think I probably ate most of it. :oops: And then I dunked the pitas they brought in the chicken oil. Yeah that was tasty. Happy to have found this place.
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BarbaraToombs
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6 years ago

Desert Gal wrote:The absolute star of the meal for me was the surprise dessert Zohour brought out for my birthday treat. Kunafa (or Kunafeh http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh ) where have you been all my life? It had a bunch of stuff going on. Warm out of the oven, it had crispy noodle threads on the outside, and covered with fresh ground pistachios. The outer parts of the inside was a syrup soaked sponge type cake made out of semolina and there was a creamy sweet almost ricotta-like (but smooth like cream cheese) cheese in the middle, which we didn’t hit until a few bites from each side. Omg this dessert had it going on!!!! I am pretty sure we forgot to take pictures.
I tried this dessert at Al Hana (Baiz Market) and didn't really care for it...the rose water syrup was kinda too flowery-tasting to me. But will have to try it here and see if Zohour puts a different twist on it!
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6 years ago

Um that is the delish salad in the back. We are not yet the photosmiths you all are...and we had already dug into the salad before thinking to take a photo. Why we blocked it with the bread...idk, the bread was that good? And anise seed in the bread, not caraway, based on a google search.

Oh and I was right about no photo's of the Kunafa. The thought didn't even occur to me once it hit the table. Ms Barbara, I have a low tolerance for flower waters so I feel your pain on that note (referring to the Kunafa version you tried). I know there was some kind of flowered water in this but it didn't seem overpowering, and I have such a low tolerance I make them leave orange blossom water out of my retro Ramos Fizzes at brunch.

I really gotta say that for my very first Foodnik Friday lunch meetup, it couldn't have been better than this little place and the new food nerd acquaintances! I'll stop posting about this place now :-P
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spicegal
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6 years ago

Gave Al Zohour a try. We tried the Cod Tangine and the B'Stilla. Both dishes were interesting and unique. The Cod was fresh flakey and the sauce was spicy and tasted like they used more than one kind of pepper to zip it up. I thought the house made Phyllo was very well done. Very few people out there make their own phyllo. Zohour was very friendly and chatted a bit but I was afraid to ask her questions about the food because it seemed very hectic for her to handle two tables and our visit here took two hours. I noticed at the nearby shopping center at the intersection are several other little Muslim Kitchens and a sweet shop.
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AZLobo
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6 years ago

HOLY SMOKES, I am going to be dreaming about this place. I had lunch here today and could totally have dinner there tonight. I was in a bit of a hurry but everything, and I mean everything that I had today can only be described in superlatives.
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Skillet Doux
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6 years ago

Oh, wow... thank you, Desert Gal, for insisting we get the kunafeh. Totally mindblowing. But first thing's first.

After an aborted attempt to get lunch at Samarkand and a Plan B that resulted in some mediocre soups at a nearby Vietnamese joint, Desert Gal, AZlobo and I decided to go with the old axiom: "If you have a bad lunch, you owe it to yourself to have another."
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Lentil Soup
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A little lentil soup to start... simple and wonderful stuff, a squeeze of lemon for brightness, a little fried pita for crunch.
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Tagine
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This time, she brought out the tagine with the cover still on, and I feel compelled to point out how gorgeous (and hefty) these things are.

Lamb tagine was outstanding as always, and the bastilla was even better, if possible. A couple of ladies at the next table were rather curious about the bastilla, so we shared :-)

And then... AND THEN...
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Kunafeh
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Wow. Wowwowwow. Oh, wow. This was, in all seriousness, one of the most fabulous pastries I've ever tasted. I know I've had kunafeh a couple of times before -- not a lot -- but lord, nothing like this. The outer layer was a light dough she makes with phyllo threads -- like a lattice of tiny, crisp little noodles -- and semolina, soaked with syrup and cooked to a crisp, deep brown. Then the filling... Desert Gal and I were debating whether it was some kind of custard or a cheese, so we asked and it turns out she makes a kind of cream cheese in house for the filling, and it's completely amazing. The whole thing isn't overly sweet. The syrup isn't overpowering and the filling might not be sweetened at all. But oh my god, it's warm and sweet and soft and creamy and crunchy all along the outside, and the textures... plus a dusting of powdered sugar and pistachios. Do not miss this.

And of course, Ms. Saad was her usual lovely self. She's so welcoming, and takes so much pride in what she does. She told us again that she's hoping to expand the restaurant area sometime soon. It was a little quiet for lunch yesterday, but I understand the late night business is quite brisk. I'd love to go here late, feast, and lounge over mint tea sometime.

This place continues to be, IMO, one of the greatest finds since I moved to Phoenix. Once again, H/T to Seftel. So, so happy about this place.
Dominic Armato
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Desert Gal
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6 years ago

Skillet Doux wrote:Oh, wow... thank you, Desert Gal, for insisting we get the kunafeh. Totally mindblowing.
SD, That you loved it as much as I do tells me I was right the first time I met you (at Alzohour) and said, "I've found my tribe".
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