New Kid on the Block: Tara Kitchen

Opening a restaurant in this town is never easy, but the owners of Tara Kitchen — chef Aneesa Waheed and her husband, Muntasim Shoaib — were doing something right when they were able to put their space together — on Church between Leonard and Franklin — in a few weeks, opening in mid-December. But of course it wasn’t that simple: it took another month to complete the application for the liquor license, which was just filed on Jan. 12. And for a time Aneesa was stuck: should she close and wait? Or watch potential customers come in, learn there are no drinks on the menu, and walk out.

But she held out and now we can get to the good news.

The Moroccan restaurant, the sixth for the couple whose other restaurants are in the Albany area, is now operating with a temporary beer & wine license as of last week. Eater’s staff counted her rfissa chicken — “a stew flavored with an eight-spice combination known as ra el hanout and dotted with lentils and currants is deposited on a bed of torn pieces of the flatbread msemen, to make a slightly unsightly but supremely delicious quasi-pudding” — among the best dishes they ate in January. And the last pieces of the renovation puzzle have been put into place. Even the tagines were delivered, despite the fact that the distributor no longer sells to the US. (Aneesa sourced them directly in France.)

And they are open for lunch.

Everything on the extensive menu — and there are 30 dishes in total — is served sizzling right to the table. The server takes the top of the tagine away with him when he leaves. We went for tagines since when in Rome, but I am going back for the shepherd’s pie and the cabbage rolls.

Traditional tagines are not made with vegetables, so to round out our dishes — the lamb and the Moroccan ratatouille — we ordered to the warm fig salad and ate them together. NB: Moroccan salads don’t usually have greens, so don’t picture a big pile of kale when you see the salad menu. Instead imagine a colorful arrangements of small dishes that can be swapped out and combined.

The space is long and narrow, so the front is largely the bar and the majority of seating is in the back. The lighting is warm and colorful, with gold wall paper, pierced brass hanging lanterns and lots of draping bougainvillea at the entrance. The plates and lovely tea glasses are imported from Morocco; the tagines are off-white from Staub.

Aneesa is from India and moved to Schenectady as a teenager; Muntasim is from Pakistan. But they met as adults in Morocco in 2006 — she was on vacation and he was there for work. A couple years later, after 12 years in the magazine publishing industry, she was ready to leave the corporate world and try something new but financially, it was too daunting to try it here in the city. So they made the leap to the Capitol region. (She also released a cookbook in June and has a line of jarred sauces and marinades.)

“When we decided to get into food about 13 years ago, we wanted to do something unique and started dabbling in Moroccan cuisine,” Aneesa said. “As a couple, that is our common country.” She is the executive chef and manages the menus and the staff; he manages the finances and the real estate, since they own most of their properties. The couple has two children, 10 and 11.

They looked at close to 80 spaces in the city before settling on the former Kori. They have always wanted to get back here eventually. (She never gave up her apartment.)

“I am so in love with Tribeca. I wanted a sense of community,” she said. “I like being in places where people come home and want to stay local for dinner. But what I really loved is how well it is situated in downtown — access to the commercial daytime activity as well as a really thriving residential community for the nights.”

Stay tuned: The goal is to open five NYC locations in the next two years.

Tara Kitchen
253 Church | Leonard & Franklin
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 11a to 9p
Friday and Saturday: 11a to 10p
Sunday: 11a to 9p



  1. How ridiculous that restaurants like this choose to delay their openings for weeks in order to secure a proper liquor license, but hundreds of unlicensed marijuana shops are open for business.

  2. We love love love Tara Kitchen. We’ve been several times and taken food away a couple times. It’s the most delicious, soul-enriching food — huge portions, too. Everything we’ve eaten is our favorite thing – tagines and other, too. And Aneesa and her husband are so lovely, so welcoming. She’s my new hero, check out her TEDx talk!!

  3. I can confirm Tara Kitchen rocks! I popped in out of curiosity and was so blown away – I’ve been back (or ordered takeout) 3 times. It’s also very reasonably priced! Run don’t walk

  4. The food was very good and I’m happy to return with friends. I spent about 40 minutes here longer than I wanted to be because the cook also was the waiter. I asked another person for an additional order, but it never arrived. I think this person worked in the kitchen. Perhaps more staff has been hired by now.

  5. A terrific addition to the neighborhood! Dinner last night. The orange and olive salad is a revelation.

  6. Had dinner last night and loved it. Lovely staff, and good food. Will be going back again.