Leftovers: Sahara Chicken

A San Pedro chicken specialist from the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Whether by choice or necessity, San Pedro’s Sahara Chicken eschews the overwrought atmosphere of many Moroccan restaurants: There aren’t any tapestries slung over your head like the roof of some lazy tent; there aren’t any rusty hookahs or veiled belly dancers, either. Sahara Chicken is a long way from any of that opulent posturing, which thankfully distinguishes it from restaurants designed to appeal more to an idea than an appetite. So, it’s in the sparse dining room of Sahara Chicken where you can ditch such culinary parodies and return to a proper food-based focus.

The restaurant’s comparatively cramped quarters help it along that edible path—the place operates in a small space eaten up mostly by its kitchen. Yet even with much of its square footage dedicated to cooking, Sahara Chicken is still a restaurant perhaps best suited to takeout, with only three or four tables available should you want to dine in. Either way, the menu—a little more Moroccan than Mediterranean—offers plenty with which to keep you coming back.

Though its name offers a clear clue, the restaurant’s primary specialty—chicken—might not be an obvious option. Pigeon is a traditional poultry choice across the Atlantic, but slow-roasted chicken is the standard here, and it’s available in three sizes: a quarter, half or whole bird. Since price isn’t an issue (a whole chicken doesn’t even crack double digits), orders should be dictated by how much you’d like left over. Whatever size fits your stomach (and fridge) will be good, each order packed with the kind of full fowl flavor existing only in birds that have spent hours spinning away on the rotisserie.

Like the restaurant’s fantastically tender chicken, lamb is also offered in a couple different sizes. There are hefty shanks for a primal plate, but the lamb is better served cubed and skewered. The kabobs—rounded out by rice, hummus, pita, and the usual salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato—are excellent, charred nuggets of lamb that, when dressed with a dab of garlic sauce, nearly melt away like meaty lozenges.

As expected at any restaurant of a desert-derived lineage, there are also a handful of vegetarian dishes here. For a hearty start, there’s the Moroccan soup, a protein-packed bowl filled with lentils, garbanzo beans, onion, celery and more. There’s also balls of falafel—crisp, compact spheres available on their own or wrapped up in a sandwich. Though they lose a bit of their desired crunch in the sandwich (they have to compete with cucumber and tomato), they’re extremely flavorful, a trait that should be traded for those extra seconds in the fryer any day.

And if the standard menu doesn’t offer enough, Sahara Chicken also cooks up a trio of weekend specials. Thursdays and Fridays bring lemon chicken and couscous, respectively, but the promotion reaches its peak on Saturdays. It’s then that the restaurant bakes batches of pastilla, a pie-like dish constructed from layers of paper-thin phyllo dough, shredded chicken, ground almonds and cinnamon. If you were to subtract the chicken, you’d almost end up with a baklava-like snack; instead, pastilla shares some sweet-savory characteristics with the likes of mincemeat pie.

Even with those specials, Sahara Chicken’s menu is still a small one. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the restaurant’s spatial constraints, but whatever the cause may be, it’s impossible to argue against quality. And this is what Sahara Chicken often delivers—it may not serve up any revelations, but it does offer plenty of satisfaction. And that’s something that its counterparts, belly dancers and all, can’t touch.

SAHARA CHICKEN 1389 W PARK WESTERN DR | SAN PEDRO 90732 | 310.833.6950 | OPEN DAILY 11AM-9PM | FOOD FOR TWO $10-20

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