The downtown location of Dar Salam is both flashy and serviceably casual, a high-ceilinged hall in which every wall that's not tiled blue and yellow with lions and ancient temples is covered in a menagerie of artifacts and knickknacks representing centuries of Iraqi culture all the way back to Nebuchadnezzar. But there's nothing gimmicky about the food, far better here than at the oddly abandoned-seeming original Alberta location.
On either mezza platter ($11), the falafel is served in doughnut form—wonderfully crisp on the outside but moist and tender within, earthy with a lilt of herb. The hummus, meanwhile, is airy, frothy and delicate. The baba ghanoush is only lightly smoked so that the flavor of the eggplant blossoms beneath. The pickled mango, meanwhile, is a bracing surprise of tart fruit flavor. Among meat dishes the standard chicken and lamb meat skewers are well-executed, grill-kissed slabs—but the real treasure is the lamb shank served over an earthy, rich, sweet eggplant marga stew whose depth and warmth opens out to fill the entire palate, comfort fare as deep as any memory. Also, the shredded meat salad is a delight—tender spiced meat under sumac dressing on a bed of greens.
But the baklava…dear Lord, the baklava. It is light and flaky and glued together with fresh honey and roasted pistachio whose flavor seems impossibly deep, a nuanced layer cake of phyllo that puts the desserts of many fine dining restaurants to shame.
GO: 320 SW Alder St., 503-444-7813, darsalamportland.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-10 pm Friday-Saturday. $$.
Eat: Vegan mezza ($11), lamb shank kuzi ($15), baklava ($5) and you're set for two. At lunch, you can avail yourself of an all-you-can eat buffet for $11.99.
Drink: Dar Salam has a full bar—but honestly, it's hard to pass up the delightful mint lemonade or mint yogurt drinks.
Most popular dish: As at every Mediterranean spot, diners order the mezzas.
Noise level: 50/100
Expected wait: It's pretty safe to expect a near-immediate table.
Who you'll eat with: Tech folk and nonprofit employees working nearby, well-to-do families living nearby, and Arabic teens.
Year opened: 2015
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