After walking past it several times, I had always wondered what exactly the Alhambra Palace Restaurant was. It seemed like such a mysterious place, and looked like a palace from the outside. It’s a really massive ethnic-looking structure along Randolph Street in the West Loop. I found it to be quite intimidating from the outside, so I avoided exploring it for a while. It wasn’t until the Taste of Randolph festival where I learned a little bit about the place. It’s just a really big Moroccan themed restaurant.
I tried a kebob at the Taste of Randolph, and wasn’t too impressed with it. It was pretty good, but nothing special. I learned from the people working the tent that they do Moroccan food at the restaurant. So at this point, I gathered it was a really big palace-looking themed restaurant, what I had of the food at that point was nothing special, and the restaurant is located next to a sleezy adult store. I was in no rush to explore Alhambra.
Finally, I was bored one night and decided to try Alhambra at the restaurant. It was kind of late on a weeknight. I walked in and only a small part of the restaurant was open. All I could think was how large the building was compared to the puny seating area I saw. It was pretty nice inside, but didn’t look much different from any other middle eastern restaurant I had been to. The menu mainly consisted of the all-to-familiar items I see at every middle eastern restaurant, and not much of it was real Moroccan food. It was mainly kefta, kebobs, shawarma etc… I decided to go a little more authentic and ordered the lamb tangine and a couple other random dishes. The food was good, but again, nothing special.
At this point, I had two rather lackluster experiences with Alhambra and had no interest in returning. One night my good friend Rhonda spotted Alhambra from afar and questioned me about it. I explained my two experiences there and we decided to pass on it. She expressed interest in exploring it, so we decided to return later that evening for a drink. This time, they had almost the entire facility opened up and we were both in awe.
They have a massive dining area with a stage for live performers. Moroccan antiques and decor covered nearly every square inch of the place. On stage, they had an Arabic band playing along with belly dancers. A large group of people danced around in a circle on the main dance floor. There were fountains, historic artifacts and mosaics everywhere. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. We began to explore the entirely deserted balcony area, and made some rather unusual observations.
We found all sorts of secret and hidden meeting rooms throughout the upstairs area. We began hypothesizing what all those secret meeting rooms were used for. We also came across a lute, which I unsuccessfully attempted to play. Although Alhambra lacks in food quality and menu selection, it is one of the coolest ethnic restaurants in Chicago. Make sure you go there on the weekend so you can experience Moroccan culture through dance and music.