The man seated at the table next to me at lunch — born in Baghdad and now well into his 70s, I’d learned while waiting for our food — glanced at the bowl a server had just put down in front of me. He nodded in recognition. I’d ordered pacha, an Iraqi soup that often comprises some variation of sheep’s head, stomach and feet. This version at Akkad in Glendale swerved in milder directions: beef shank, lamb tongue and beef intestines stuffed with rice and ground meat. The broth hummed with subtle, pleasant gaminess. A wedge of blistered flatbread lined the bowl, its texture becoming ever creamier as it steeped.
“This is important,” the man said to me as a server returned with a small cup filled with lemon juice and a pinch of minced garlic. “Pour at least half of that into the pacha.” The citrus performed its acidic miracles: The flavors flickered on and kept ricocheting. I drained the broth and powered through as much of the meat and the bread as I could.
My new friend watched as I leaned back in my chair, feeling full, and he said, “Let me treat you to something you must try called kahi, very beloved in Iraq. I will ask for two: one for me, one for you.” Kahi is a baked, Pop-Tart-size rectangle of puff pastry; I’d noticed cooks in Akkad’s kitchen feeding sheets of it through a dough roller. The man doused his kahi with simple syrup and cut it into squares with a knife and fork. I did the same, happy in the pastry’s uncomplicated sweetness and in a stranger’s kind gesture.
Glendale has been home to a dynamic Armenian community for nearly a century. Akkad owner Aram Armenak funnels his Armenian Iraqi heritage into the menu, which includes standards that cut across a spectrum of Middle Eastern cuisines (kebabs, falafel, yogurt-based dips) but also, more rewardingly, Iraqi specialties seldom found in restaurants locally or nationally. The name refers to a lost, ancient city in Iraq; Armenak and chef-partner Margos Margos opened the restaurant as Massif in 2015.
As an entry point, start with kibbeh haleb (sometimes spelled kubbet halab), properly crisp spheroids made with rice stained marigold-yellow from turmeric. Allspice whispers through their ground beef filling. On weekends, the kitchen prepares smaller, more dumpling-like varieties of kibbeh haleb served in hot, thickened yogurt sauce or in minted tomato soup. Both are terrific; I favor the yogurt variant for its plainly soothing qualities.
Skip the more typical bulgur-and-meat fried kibbeh: Its shell bounces more than crackles, and its beefy interior isn’t as generously seasoned as the exemplars at Hayat’s Kitchen in North Hollywood or Kobee Factory in Van Nuys. But another laudable fried starter leaps out: mashed potato patties known as potato chops, stuffed with more ground beef. The kitchen nails the crunch-squish ratios; I tend to swipe these through jajik (a garlicky yogurt dip with dried mint and cucumber chunks) and the restaurant’s impressively silky hummus.
On restaurant menus, dolmas often refer solely to stuffed grape leaves. Akkad draws on the fuller repertoire of dolmas — stuffed vegetables of all kinds. The stuffing is similar for onions, peppers, squash, small eggplants and grape leaves: rice flavored with beef and tomato paste. Each vegetable arrives simmered or steamed to a softness that requires only a fork; the sour twang running through the rice, keeping all the flavors taut and compelling, is pomegranate molasses.
A server steered me toward the dolmas one dinner, mentioning that they were exceptionally fresh. I appreciated his advice, though you can’t exactly count on the service at Akkad. Sometimes you’re directed to a table where a staffer takes your order; sometimes you stand in line at the counter. I can’t discern any traceable logic to the system. It seems to mostly depend on how frazzled the staff becomes. One minute the spare room (sandy-colored walls and floor tiles; tables covered in black cloths overlaid with white paper; piercing fluorescent lights) will have only three stray customers; couples and large groups will suddenly fill the place.
I hold out for those quieter moments, when a waiter has the time to nudge me toward hallmarks of Iraqi cuisine such as quzi, braised lamb shank over spiced basmati speckled with ground beef, almonds and raisins. This is a celebration dish; you can order quzi in advance made with a quarter, half or whole lamb.
Akkad is an all-day restaurant; mornings tend to be calm. I dropped in most recently for a breakfast of eggs and soujouk, peppery beef sausages. It was nourishment enough, but I also noticed the menu’s breakfast section listed kahi. As an early meal (rather than as dessert when I’d first been treated) it is traditionally served with geymar, an Iraqi take on clotted cream. This is the addition that propels kahi into true sustenance, with tart globs of dairy balancing the simple syrup and slowly melting into the hot pastry.
I’d brought a friend: He requested thick, jolting Armenian coffee alongside his kahi; I’d asked for Iraqi-style black tea, strong and tannic. As bracing counterpoint to the day’s sweet beginning, both tasted exactly right.
Akkad Mediterranean & Iraqi Grill
An all-day restaurant that serves three square meals of Iraqi specialties rarely found in restaurants locally or nationally.
902 E. Colorado St., Glendale, (818) 245-6863
Appetizers $6.49-$9.99; salads $5.99-$8.99, entrees $6.99-$18.99, breakfast dishes $1.25-$8.99
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Lot parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Pacha; hummus with chicken shawarma; beef dolmas; kibbeh haleb; quzi; kahi with geymar