2921 NE Alberta St., 206-6148, darsalamportland.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
It's hard not to root for a restaurant with a story like Dar Salam's. Two grade-school friends from Baghdad, one of whom was hit by a roadside bomb after the U.S. invaded Iraq, reunited in Portland in 2011 and decided to start a restaurant, sharing the family business between two families. It's like the plot of a great '80s movie, except with a lot of heartbreak at the beginning.
When you enter the charming old carriage house housing the Iraqi restaurant they began, you'll find yellow walls cluttered with framed photos, servers dressed in red embroidered vests, and rich, comforting flavors. The two families have made Dar Salam one of the most satisfying spots on Alberta Street, and certainly the best Iraqi spot in Portland. But it is also among the best of all Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern-influenced food in the area, even taking into account the newly blossoming crop of high-end Levantine places such as Mediterranean Exploration Co., Le Vieux and Levant, each with its own fancier take on the cuisine.
Dar Salam offers these rich flavors with the added benefit of economy. You can usually get a table here even during Last Thursday, and the mezze platter is a lot of great food for $9.50. Sure, the menu may read a little like that at any of the local Lebanese restaurants—shawarma, kebabs, mezza platters with hummus and falafel and zingy tzatziki—although here's no need to stop at the familiar dishes.
The Iraqi take on dolma ($8.50) substitutes grape leaves for onions filled with rice, spices, pomegranate and sun-dried tomatoes. The marga, a slow-cooked, cardamom-scented chickpea stew, is a must ($9, $13 with lamb).
For dessert, try the gaemar ($4), yogurt that's whipped into the texture of butter and molded into a little tower—it looks something like a soft-serve cone—and blanketed with dreamy, creamy date honey. REBECCA JACOBSON
Cedo's Falafel and Gyros
3901 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 719-7344. Lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
[LEGUME ME] This is an odd, long-and-narrow space, formerly a hot dog stand. Pay it no mind. Instead, think chickpeas, the base ingredient for crusty dark golden falafel balls and tahini-smoothed hummus. Both are stars. The falafel is offered as a sandwich ($8, $10 "Jerusalem style" with tabbouleh) or paired with gyro meat on a "1/2 & 1/2 Plate" ($12) that comes with a dollop of hummus. Fava beans are blended with a touch of jalapeño and plenty of good olive oil, then served warm as foul madamas ($6). These are the makings of a full meal—with the methane-forming potential of a Saudi Arabian oil field. But also consider Cedo's Potatoes ($4), crunchy twice-baked, thick-sliced spuds, generously sprinkled with za'atar, which are painfully addictive. An extra gold star for cheerful service. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
11795 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Beaverton, 672-9229. Lunch and dinner daily.
[PRINCE OF PORTLAND PERSIAN] In a tucked-away plaza in the Beaverton Town Square mall, Jafar Ehfad's little spot remains constant, an earth-toned oasis of koobideh. "Delicious!" says Ehfad each time you order an item. As I waited for a takeout order, cardamom-spiced tea in hand, a steady stream of Farsi speakers wandered through to pay their respects. But although the koobideh—a shish-cooked sausage—is fine, and the filet mignon shish is gently charred and marinated with salt-forward spice, get the gheimeh ($11), a tomato-based stew stacked with split peas, potatoes and tender chunks of beef. The mix of heavy turmeric and lemon, combined with savory fillings, creates an almost unbearable warmth. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
318 SE Grand Ave., 235-5123; 3223 NE Broadway, 445-4700; 323 N Main Ave., Gresham, 666-3333; nicholasrestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[FAMILY UTILITY] Nicholas was the original Portland sidewalk line—and on still-seamy Grand Avenue, it hilariously blends into the line at the shelter just a block down the street. But this is no queue for bougie flavors featured in airline magazines; it's all value, with families filling four-tops in the knowledge that two mezze platters, at $14 for the veg and $16 for the meat, arrayed together, will feed them handily, with leftovers of citric hummus, great grape leaves, and kafta spiced and charred just so. Although Nicholas is not the best Lebanese in town, it is far and away the best good Lebanese one could get at such price and quantity, and the bustle of any location ends up part of the fun, with everybody's kid a little dirty and sweaty from playing on the sidewalk. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
3257 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 235-3277; 5663 NE Glisan St., 235-3274; tarboushbistro.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[DEEP CUTS] TarBoush makes the best beef shawarma and mezza plates in town, but you should dig deeper into the menu at this Lebanese standout, which now has a second location in North Tabor. Sure, there's falafel and zaatar, but also a bowl of odd little sausages called makanik, made in-house from gamey lamb sirloin, with natural casing and a secret spice blend, seared and served with a candy-sweet salsa of chopped tomatoes and lemon. In the entree section, look for bamyeh, a hearty okra-based chili, a thick tomato-based stew of fibrous green seedpods, onion, cilantro and garlic. It's warming, like something dads make on cold Big Beirut nights. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Wolf and Bear's
113 SE 28th Ave, 453-2872; Southwest 10th Avenue between Alder and Washington streets, 810-0671; 3925 N Mississippi Ave, 453-5044; eatwolfandbears.com. Lunch daily all locations, dinner daily at 28th and Mississippi avenues.
[CHICKPEA CHAMPIONS] To fault Wolf and Bear's lack of grating electronic music and warped photographs of pitas and hot dogs serving as its proper menu signage as "inauthentic" is stodgy and foolish. This modest chain of traditional Middle Eastern street food carts is the finest in Portland, chalkboard signage and impromptu visits from Fred Armisen and Jerry Seinfeld be damned. The falafel pita ($7)—an overstuffed modernist mash-up highlighted by grilled eggplant and roasted red peppers—is a fine place to start, but a menu loaded with fresh, can't-fail ingredients such as labneh, caramelized walnuts or their housemade kalamata tapenade offers infinite off-the-map deviations that are expertly endorsed by a daily "Staff Recommendations" board you'd be wise to consult before committing to more standard fare. Adding falafel to the Sabich ($7.5)—their handheld spin on a traditional Iraqi-Jewish breakfastdish with hard-boiled egg and mango puree—is a popular hangover cure for the long walk home. Beyond the suggestion of not being shy with the add-ons, there are no hard, fast rules (and no duds) on Wolf and Bear's menu, merely starting points from which a falafel fantasia is crafted. PETE COTTELL.