The evening I land in Casablanca, Morocco, I decide to lose myself in the Ancienne Médina, the old walled quarter that butts up against the city’s busy port. Without a reliable map, I randomly navigate the brick alleyways, passing markets with caged, live chickens, two-seat barbershops and narrow carts piled high with oranges. Mothers pushing strollers dodge soccer balls in miniature plazas. Music from tinny radios pours out of shop windows. I wander in fascination for an hour—until hunger finally overwhelms my curiosity.
At one of the gates of the medina, I approach two police officers who are chatting with a friend, and ask how to find a certain restaurant. They argue between themselves for a while. Then the friend pats the seat of his motorbike, inviting me aboard. He tears down the street, honking his horn and scattering pedestrians before merging into a wide boulevard. I grip his shoulders as we weave through buses and bicycles, and I exhale as he pulls up to a restored mansion at the medina’s edge. It’s not the restaurant I’m looking for. But it’s a familiar landmark, and close enough. A sign over the balcony window, in art deco script, says Rick’s Café.
Kathy Kriger, the owner of Rick’s—and the woman I had come to Morocco’s largest city to interview—is delighted when I later recount that story. “Everybody comes to Rick’s,” she says, quoting a line from the 1942 film Casablanca. An American-born former commercial diplomat, Kriger left her government job to re-create t...