Jewish Iraqi Food: Yes, But in Los Angeles?
Anne Fishbeinthe invisible restaurant critic
Dear Mr. Gold:
My parents are coming to visit soon and I was hoping to do them proud by finding some authentic Iraqi cuisine akin to what my Baghdad-born father grew up eating just outside of Tel Aviv. His mother has stuffed us many a visit with things like sambusak, the sabich, kubeh, bamia and the ever-present amba. I myself am not sure what, if anything, separates Iraqi Jewish food from Iraqi food at large, and our family holds no religious dietary restrictions, so if there's a great place serving the aforementioned that is not kosher or even Jewish, that is of course fine.
--Nadav A. Havusha
Dear Mr. Havusha:
I could tell you where to go for Jewish Iraqi food in Brooklyn, or where to go for Muslim Iraqi food in Dearborn, Mich., but as far as I know, there is no dedicated Jewish-Iraqi restaurant in Los Angeles. I mean, there must be -- I assume that a pretty big percentage of the Sephardic community here must be Baghdadi -- but the last place I saw amba, the tart Iraqi mango sauce, was on a shwarma plate at Mezze, a pretty good pan-Middle Eastern restaurant with a non-kosher Jewish chef. Mezze may not be what you have in mind, but it is very, very good.
But there are a lot of Israeli restaurants in Los Angeles, and it occurs to me that some of them do in fact have the flaky, meat-filled turnovers called sambusek, the fried-eggplant/hard-boiled-egg sandwich sabich, kube (like kibbe), even the Iranian okra gumbo bamia. That tart sauce on the sabich must, in fact, be amba. So maybe the Aroma Bakery & Cafe in Encino is close to what you're looking for. It is loud, open late and very, very Israeli -- to call the service brusque may be understating things -- and is kosher, thus closed on Shabbat.
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.