The Middle East and Central America have fused over food in Kennewick.
Amir Rahimlou, an Iran native, and his wife, Ana, who was born in Central America, opened Kopolinos International Cuisine & Cafe, a Middle Eastern restaurant on their first wedding anniversary, Nov. 11.
Amir has lived in the Tri-Cities for 13 years but spent his early life in Tehran, Iran, where his father owned a restaurant.
"That was when I was very young so I never worked there. But I've always loved cooking," he said.
His wife shares his love of cooking.
"When we met about three years ago in an English 101 class, we found we shared many things in common," she said.
Her family immigrated from Central America one by one in the course of 30 years, eventually settling mainly in Eastern Washington. About three years ago she moved from Moses Lake to the Tri-Cities.
Amir ran a sock making factory before he and his former wife moved to Germany where several members of his family live.
"We only stayed there about a year. It was too cold, too gray," he said. The couple immigrated to the United States, where Amir intended to work at Hanford, but that didn't work out. Neither did his marriage.
Instead, he went to work at Walmart where, among other departments, he managed the deli and produce.
"I learned a lot about food there and about the (health district) regulations on handling food," he said. Walmart's store manager and district manager also taught him to never put out food for customers that he would not buy and eat himself.
"I learned quality from them," Amir Rahimlou said.
Earlier this year, the couple decided to open their own restaurant. In October, they leased 420 S. Vancouver St. in Kennewick and began setting up the kitchen, buying tables and chairs and decorating. It's the former site of the Mid-Town Bake Shop in the Mid-Town Plaza.
Their menu reflects their cultures, with a heavy emphasis on Persian dishes.
"I manage to sneak some Hispanic flavors in once in a while," said Ana, grinning.
Many of the dishes on the menu are available served on family-size platters for all at the table to share. Prices range from $7 to $30.
Some of their customers' favorites include:
w A combination of beef and chicken kabobs served with grilled tomato, bell pepper and fresh basil.
w A savory lamb stew, gusht, served with saffron basmati rice.
w Naskhatun, grilled eggplant with a light pomegranate sauce.
w Zereshk polow, basmati rice with a glaze flavored with dried blackberries.
"They're all dishes I've made for years for my family and friends," Amir said.
Finding authentic seasonings in restaurant quantities and at a good price has been a challenge, the couple said. Amir has become an Internet sleuth, finding some necessary ingredients at outlets in New York City, others in California.
Fresh basil, used in many of the dishes, is expensive this time of year. And saffron, a main ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, even more so.
"In Iran you can buy 20 grams of saffron for $30 American, here it's $120," he said.
But as his father tells him when Amir calls asking for cooking advice, "Either make it right or don't make it at all."
Kopolinos can be found on Facebook.
The restaurant offers takeout and has applied for a license to sell wine and beer. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily. The phone number is 572-2226.
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