Tucked away in the Garden District of New Orleans, on an unexpecting residential block amidst centuries old antibellum mansions, lays Jamila’s- one of my all time favorite restaurants of all cities I’ve visited (thus far). A Tunisian treasure, operated by Tunisian husband and wife: Muncif and Jamila, the overall experience is enchanting.
For those who are unfamiliar with Tunisia, it is a North African country, next door to Lybia and Algeria, and residing on the Mediterranean Sea, so the cuisine is very much Mediterranean, serving traditional dishes with ingredients such as couscous, lamb, fish and seafood, and an array of vegetables, all of which is handcrafted by Jamila in traditional preparation- including cooking the meats in clay pots.
The atmosphere feels as if you’ve traveled to Northern Africa and are having dinner in a native family’s dining room, complete with jolly chefs and a sense of welcome obtainable nowhere else. The ceiling is painted like the sky with a cerulean background and fluffy white clouds. Small birdcages and other trinkets hang from the ceilings and adorn the walls. Native music plays in the background, and on some nights, a belly dancer strolls through the small restaurant, gyrating her hips and wearing traditional belly dancing attire.
Muncif was our server and his chipper kindness was contagious and uplifting, speaking cheerily about his homeland and his amazing wife’s culinary wonders. I had amberjack- a white fish with the firmness of salmon- coated in a tasty, spicy seasoning, while my boyfriend had a traditional lamb dish served with couscous and prepared in a clay pot. Paired with a bottle of chardonnay and a small, intimate dining room filled with (presumably) regular patrons- laughing and smiling at everyone in the room, the two hour experience was romantic, unique, unforgettable, and most surprising- cozy. The experience parallels what I imagine a similar dinner would feel like if invited into the home of a Tunisian family and that authenticity is what makes it absolutely perfect. And anytime a restaurant experience is able to elicit the feeling of close friends and family among strangers, that establishment has far exceeded my expectations and won a permanent place in my memoirs.
By: Ashley Halligan