Restaurant Guide 2013: Dar Salam

2921 NE Alberta St., 206-6148,

[FRESH FROM BAGHDAD] By default, Dar Salam has held the title of "best Iraqi restaurant" in Portland since opening in February 2012. It's also Portland's best Middle Eastern restaurant, period. This Alberta Street eatery's owner, Ghaith Sahib, left Baghdad in 2006 after being injured by a car bomb. Sahib and his wife, a Portland native, opened a food cart on Southeast Division Street that quickly spun into a restaurant with the help of Sahib's longtime friend Maath Hamed, another Baghdadi who fled a middle-class neighborhood long after Dubya declared our mission there accomplished. They've had a rough go here, too: In June, a fire destroyed the food cart Dar Salam had been using as a kitchen, thankfully sparing the old carriage house where the dining room sits. That struggle doesn't show in the food. Iraqi food riffs on the warm and easy recipes of the eastern Mediterranean. Pita is steaming, plentiful and pleasantly yeasty. Hummus is butter-smooth and tahini-intensive. Baba ghanoush is extra-smoky with a big paprika kick. There are familiar grape leaf dolmas, but try the Iraqi version wrapped in onions and stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and pomegranate. A cool, creamy salad with yogurt and bright-pink beets is earthy but delightfully tangy. Beef, chicken and lamb shawarma plates are better than average, but make sure someone at your table orders the marga, a delicately spiced chickpea stew. Oh, and get dessert: baklava, date rolls and a little cup of Turkish tea.

Ideal meal: Hummus, beet salad, marga, lamb shawarma and a date roll with tea.

Best deal: The mezze platter is a lot of great food for $9.50.

Pro tip: You can usually get a table here even during Last Thursday.

11 am-2:30 pm and 6-10 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-10 pm Saturday. $-$$.


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