Moroccan Flavors does fine North African cooking at cheap-eats prices

The tagines are fine-dining fine but served in a recyclable container at cheap-eats prices.

The tagines are fine-dining fine but served in a recyclable container at cheap-eats prices.

The Twin Cities food scene continues to expand, adding flavors and cuisines like stamps in a passport. Certain things that were previously all but impossible to find are now well within reach: excellent Japanese-style ramen, world-class sushi, authentic Philly cheese steaks. If you've got a craving, you can probably satisfy it somewhere in the metro area.

Enter Moroccan Flavors, in the Midtown Global market, where fresh and fine North African cooking can be had for far less money than should be rightly possible. 

Chef Hassan Ziadi runs his corner of the market with the zeal and attention to detail of the proprietor of a fine restaurant. No surprise, considering he's spent time in many fine kitchens, including the late Un Deux Trois and Vincent, as well as Loring Pasta Bar and Sanctuary. 

At Moroccan Flavors, you'll find row after row of fresh salads and sides to accompany sandwiches and tagines. A dozen or so selections are lined up prettily, like colorful blocks of paint on a palette. You know those grab-and-go bars at the grocery store? Leave them in the dust. This is what you're really after when you're in a hurry but still want something real to eat. 

A tagine is a traditional Moroccan stew, slow-cooked in stoneware of the same name. The conical shape of the tagine gathers steam, which condenses and trickles back into the food, enhancing moisture and flavor. A slow-braised beef tagine with turmeric rice (also available with couscous), dried fruit, and Marcona almonds rivals white-tablecloth eating in both flavor and quality. At a fraction of the cost, this is really special fare even though you'll get it in a recyclable container. The meat is fork-tender, and the rice heavily redolent with cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and coriander. The fruit offers a sugary bite and the nuts, crunch. Delicious. 

Morocco has a heavy French influence, so check out the hefty sandwiches served on soft baguette. Tender chicken breast, marinated in dajaj— paprika, citrus, coriander, and fresh herb — was excellent, with a prodigious swipe of aioli, plus tomato and red onion. It comes with a little pot of addictive spiced olives that you can pop in between bites, or better yet, sprinkle on the sandwich for briny intensity. French fries are a popular Moroccan street food and they're on offer here for three bucks. 

A grilled eggplant spread was not the deep, campfire-smoky gold standard of the baba ghanouj at Saffron (which also serves tagines) but was still silky as butter with a tangy yet earthy vegetal edge. Also try the tomato and cucumber salad, roasted beets, spicy cauliflower, and marinated squash as a sampler of up to four choices for $8.95. This place is a vegetarian's nirvana, and they're extra accommodating to vegans and the gluten-averse.

Do yourself a favor and do not miss the Moroccan iced tea, a top contender for most refreshing summer beverage. Minty, lightly sweetened, and mildly spicy, it's the ideal accompaniment to this cuisine. 

We've had less impressive cooking at fancy places — at twice the price. If you're looking for a clue as to how far we've come culinarily, Moroccan Flavors is an excellent indication. Occupying its own lovely and intimate corner of the wide and varied Midtown Global Market, and with prices rivaling fast food (everything under $10), it's a glittering, delicious gem. 

Midtown Global Market 

920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis #126