From the outside, Koutoubia looks just like any other restaurant in the Westwood area. But upon entering the restaurant, the smell of spices and incense replaces the stink of car exhaust. French-Arabic music wafts in the air, giving a mystical ambience missing in most parts of Los Angeles. The unassuming cream walls outside, similar to many other restaurants in the area, give way to an interior so exquisite, one can’t help but feel like a character in The Arabian Nights.
The walls are painted a deep red and covered in tapestries with complex geometric designs and gold embroidery. Carpets cover the floor and the ceiling is slightly arched, giving the impression that one is lounging inside a Berber tent deep in the heart of Morocco. Comfortable seats and tables circle the restaurant, giving way to a spacious clearing in the middle where, on weekends, belly dancers come to entertain the patrons.
Michel Ohayon, the restaurant’s owner, bustles among the tables to make sure that everyone is having the best experience and that their glasses are never empty. Such great service and attention to detail account for the restaurant’s long-standing reputation in Los Angeles — it has stood at the same location for nearly 40 years.
Another reason for its popularity is the restaurant’s adherence to traditional Moroccan cuisine, while at the same time adding some new items to the menu. Some of the dishes it offers include tagines, couscous, merguez or Moroccan spicy sausage and soups, as well as non-traditional cocktails, beers and wines.
Koutoubia’s most popular dishes, the Tagine D’Agneau and Couscous Fassy, utilize the Moroccan favorite: lamb meat. It is stewed in a broth of many spices and sliced vegetables until the meat is tender, falling off the bones with a single touch. The dishes come with a stack of warm bread and a cup of harissa, or North African chili pepper paste. Traditionally, they are eaten by hand, but the restaurant provides silverware for those who need them.
The only shortcoming is the absence of a dessert menu or tea selection on the menu, but that is easily amended. The kitchen is more than happy to accommodate customers’ requests, whether it is a pot of Moroccan mint tea, a stack of Moroccan sugar cookies or a plate of sweet almond baklava.
Koutoubia is located at 2116 Westwood Boulevard. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.