So far, the menu at the new downtown Dar Salam doesn't stray much from the original Alberta Street location. That's fine. This excellent casual Iraqi restaurant has made some of the best Middle Eastern fare in town since opening as a cart operated by a pair of refugees who fled the chaos of their native Baghdad after Dubya's mission was accomplished. On Alberta, in fact, they still cooked out of the cart while serving diners in a bungalow covered in photos of the old country.

Photo: Kayla Sprint
Photo: Kayla Sprint

Salam makes the staples—steaky kabobs with lots of sumac, super-creamy hummus, extra-nutty baklava—plus an array of must-try specialities, including a pretty pink beet and yogurt dip and a unique version of shredded chicken shawarma served with a side of chickpea marga. In addition to a cocktail program that uses Middle Eastern ingredients, the lavishly decorated downtown spot has a wall of evil eyes and a spectacular tile mural re-creating the Ishtar Gate, built by Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II. When they bring the menu up to a similar scale, it's going to be a truly incredible experience.

Photo: Kayla Sprint
Photo: Kayla Sprint

Pro tip: They can be a little stingy with the pita. If you see your waitress and think you might need more in the next five minutes, ask away.

GO: Lazurdi at 320 SW Alder St., 444-7813; Alberta at 2921 NE Alberta St., 206-6148; darsalamportland.com. Luzurdi 11:30 am-9 pm Monday-Friday and 12:30-9 pm Saturday; Alberta 11 am-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$.