A whole world of cuisines lies behind the label “Mediterranean.” Dallas has dozens of Mediterranean grills and buffets, all subtly or markedly different from one another, because the term is frequently used to describe Moroccan, Egyptian, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Turkish, Iraqi and Persian cooking. Those countries all have different spice blends, national dishes and culinary traditions that, historically, have both contributed to and reacted to each other.
Today, we're focusing on the cuisine of Iraq. Why Iraq? For several reasons: because many Texans do not think of that country as having a separate cuisine, because Iraqi food is so well-represented in the Richardson area and because so many of our friends asked, “We have Iraqi food here?” We have lots of it. In fact, for the purposes of this list, we will be omitting Arlington, which has a separate Middle Eastern community; expect more coverage of Iraqi food in Arlington in the weeks to come.
Here’s where to find great Iraqi kebabs, sandwiches, breads and desserts in Dallas and Richardson.
850 S. Greenville Ave., Richardson. 972-744-9599. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Bilad Bakery and Restaurant is a longtime Observer favorite. It was subject of one of our most-read reviews ever, for good reason: Bilad makes magnificent beef and chicken shawarma, its veggies and pickles are spot-on, and the fresh, homemade baklava is among the best we’ve ever tasted. Plus, Bilad is a working bakery that specializes in samoon, the pillowy-soft loaf shaped like an oval with points on each end and baked until its outside is just crisp. Samoon makes for an extraordinary sandwich — try a falafel sandwich with sweet-tart amba sauce — and a great take-home bag.
The small grocery store next door, also part of Bilad’s operation, sells Middle Eastern groceries, cheeses, spice mixes, produce and teas.
13340 Audelia Road, No. 135. 469-930-9595. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Haji, in a half-empty strip mall on Audelia Road, is hard to see from the street, but eagle-eyed diners will be rewarded. The specialties here are lamb tashreeb (lamb shank) and an assortment of classic Iraqi breakfasts, like makhlama, scrambled eggs with ground lamb and spices. You can also try eggs with basturma, the cured and spiced meat that evolved in Europe into a slightly different form with a slightly different name: pastrami.
Haji serves a lot of breakfasts but opens at lunchtime. Dinner customers can enjoy a selection of unusually good Middle Eastern classics, including some of the region's best eggplant salad, characterful hummus, sharply acidic pickles and excellent falafel fried to order and speckled with sesame seeds.
13434 Floyd Circle. 972-480-9911. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday. Kebab counter closes 15-20 minutes before retail store.
World Food Warehouse would qualify as a hidden gem anyway, tucked into an industrial park near the headquarters of Texas Instruments. It is a small Middle Eastern take on Costco, a genuine warehouse full of an enormous selection of foods from across western and southern Asia. There are 18-inch-wide rounds of tandoori naan, tan-hued Palestinian watermelon seeds, enormous bulk bags of spices and a dazzling array of cheeses. There is also, to the left of the front door and cash registers, a small counter where Iraqi kebab sandwiches are on sale for $3.49.
Nothing too fancy here and no dine-in seating, either. Just a long, wide skewer of meat set over open coals, grilled, and slid into a rolled-up pita with tomatoes, onions and pickles. When you unroll the foil sleeve of the sandwich, the bewitching aroma makes the biggest mark: the rich, intoxicating smell of spice mix, beef and hot coals. The taste won't disappoint that first impression.