FARGO - Ameen and Sura Salem want to help people forget winter’s cold and hook them on the taste of food from warmer climes.

The owners of Ishtar Mediterranean Cuisine opened their downtown restaurant New Year’s Day with an extensive menu of dishes from Greece, Turkey and Iraq, including a number of fish dishes popular where Ameen grew up in Iraq.

“We try to bring something new to downtown Fargo,” Ameen said Monday, Jan. 7. “We bring all the cultures of the Mediterranean in the food. Vegetables, meats, salads and always the fish.”

Ameen worked at Cafe Aladdin in Fargo for 12 years and ran an Aladdin downtown franchise restaurant for the last six.

He said the opening of his own restaurant at 68 Broadway N. has long been a goal. There are more than 30 dishes on the menu, including vegetarian options, all served as hearty portions, he said.

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“All of my customers get a box to go. When I go to a restaurant, I want to (leave) full,” he said. “We take care of the customers 100 percent.”

Ishtar is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Saturday from noon to 3 a.m.; and Sunday noon through 8 p.m.

Ameen said he looks at the long hours on Fridays and Saturdays as an opportunity.

“Not very much is open downtown, especially in the nighttime,” Ameen said. “I like work.”

The food is fresh, not frozen, and made by them personally, Sura said.

Beyond dine-in and take-out, the restaurant will cater, including weddings, funerals and other events, she said.

Ameen immigrated to the U.S. in 2007 and she came from Baghdad, Iraq, in 2008. They met and married in America.

Ameen came from the port city of Basra in southern Iraq. Basra is on the Shatt al-Arab river, formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It flows into the Persian Gulf. It is there in “fish city” that he learned to cook.

Sura also loves cooking and her background includes cake decorating. All of the food is halal, allowable by the dietary standards of Islam, she said.

The couple like the opportunity being in downtown Fargo represents, and they look forward to the eventual opening of the Block 9 mid-rise tower, now under construction a few blocks to the north.

“I have to be open in downtown,” Ameen said. “I am happy. I like to see something new in Fargo.”