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March 7, 2021

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Petra House is Middle Eastern perfection in east Vancouver

Mediterranean offerings authentic, fresh, plentiful

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Pita with hummus, which is garnished with sumac and olive oil, at Petra House in Vancouver.
Pita with hummus, which is garnished with sumac and olive oil, at Petra House in Vancouver. (Rick Browne) Photo Gallery

Petra House specializes in Mediterranean food, with many of the menu items coming from Jordan, Israel and Morocco, as well as surrounding Middle Eastern countries.

Entering Petra House is like revisiting small restaurants in those countries. Touches include romantic curtained booths with floor-level pillowed settees, low tables, colorful carpets, what has to be Clark County’s biggest collection of hand-carved camels, brass lamps you’d expect a genie to pop out of, and embossed 3-foot-diameter brass round tables in the booths.

When we arrived, we were warned of an 18-minute wait, but actually only waited about 10 minutes. We noticed that during our entire meal every table and booth we could see was filled; as soon as anyone left new customers filled the void.

Reading the menu, which includes complete explanations for each item, is like taking a caravan across Middle Eastern cuisine.

After washing our hands with warm rose water at the table and sipping some delightful hot mint tea, we began our Jordanian feast with a generous plate of hummus ($8.59), blended garbanzo beans with tahini sauce and lemon juice garnished with sumac (a fruity astringent taste) and olive oil. The pita bread was fresh, hot from the oven, and deliciously moist inside and chewy outside.

Petra House

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: 1900 N.E. 162nd Ave., Suite D-106, Vancouver.

Contact: 360-718-7183; petrahouserestaurant.com

Health score: Petra House received a score of 20 on Jan. 24. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.

We had also ordered sambousak ($9.99), triangle-shaped meat pies with tzatziki yogurt, but they must have taken the wrong camel. No worries, the entrees arrived the minute we finished the hummus.

As we love tradition in dining, we passed on sections of the menu labeled “wraps” (gyros, falafel, shawarma, all $8.99) and “favorites” (many of the previous items on a plate, plus beef, chicken, shrimp, lamb and — no kidding — salmon kababs, $17.99 to $18.99).

We wanted to try the traditional recipes that were passed down to owner Issac Dakar from his mother and sister that he’d wanted to share with his customers ever since he’d opened the restaurant in the fall of 2013. True to the culture of his homeland, Dakar uses halal and kosher meats to respect the religious restrictions of both the Muslim and Jewish faiths.

Interested in delving deeper into Jordanian cuisine, we ordered both the mansaf, listed as the national dish of Jordan, and musakhan. We were stunned by the sizes of the two platters. Each would have easily fed two.

The mansaf ($21.99) consists of a plate-sized thin pita covered with perfectly cooked aromatic and nutty basmati rice, then mounded with some of the tenderest lamb I’ve ever eaten, topped with yogurt and sprinkled with sliced almonds and pine nuts.

My dining guest tried the musakhan ($21.99), a plate-sized baked bread topped with sauteed onions, sumac and Jordanian spices, olive oil and two very large chicken leg quarters, and a side dish of fresh, very tasty yogurt. The chicken — lightly sprinkled with cinnamon, almonds and pine nuts — was moist, while the onion-sumac-spice mixture was tangy, palate-pleasing and not spicy-hot.

Both of us took home enough for another meal. I told you the serving was large.

That being said, there was no way we were leaving Petra House without a serving of legendary baklava ($4.99), many layers of flaky phyllo dough infused with clarified butter, stuffed with finely chopped pistachio nuts and topped with homemade syrup. Very rich, very sweet, very gone.

I ventured forth and gave the mouhalabieh ($5.50) a shot. I enjoyed the smooth Jordanian milk flan, topped with pistachios and bathed in a wonderful rose water syrup. The first taste was surprising but refreshing, mouth-pleasingly sweet, and an exotic ending to our Arabian night.

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