The consequences of these economic times have hit the restaurant industry hard. There are fewer and fewer new restaurants opening, and most of those that do are established chains. So as a reviewer, I find that I must resort to re-reviewing restaurants that I haven't been to in several years or reviewing small new chains. I'm holding out on the larger chains for as long as possible.
Pita Jungle in Newport Beach originated in Arizona, but there are only three in California. One of the draws here is that everything is made from scratch and they advertise themselves as healthy. Online, you can get calorie counts and other nutritional data, as well as a list of which menu offerings are vegan or gluten free.
The space is quite attractive with high open-ductwork ceilings, clean contemporary lines, a full bar at one end, an open kitchen and a large, covered outdoor patio. Colorful abstract artwork adorns the walls. The menu is quite large and offers a long list of starters, hot or cold pitas, pita wraps, over a dozen entree salads, featured specials, wood-fired pizzas, healthy burgers, many side dishes and a few desserts.
We began with a Mediterranean antipasto platter so that we could get a good sampling of the starters. We really didn't need to order anything else, it was so large. Excellent hummus was creamy and smooth with a hint of tartness. Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) had a rice filling accented with herbs and left a delicate, sour aftertaste. The falafel were especially good because the chickpea puree was not too dense and had lots of green herbs. The fried crust was thin and crispy. Baba ganoush, an eggplant puree spiked with garlic, had a lovely, smoky aftertaste. Two salads came on the plate, a chopped onion, tomato and parsley with a delicious oil and lemon dressing and a green bean, onion and carrot, finished with a light, slightly sweet dressing. Tzaziki (strained yogurt) with sliced cucumbers, ratatouille and a small hunk of feta cheese completed the platter. Two large-sized pita breads were provided for scooping. We couldn't begin to eat it all but enjoyed tasting everything.
The shawarma (roasted chicken breast wrapped in a warm pita) was gigantic. The breast had been marinated and then grilled and chopped in big chunks, stuffed inside a huge pita, along with mixed greens, tomatoes, onions and pickles. Then the whole concoction was doused with garlic sauce — yummy, messy and, once again, too big to eat at one sitting after those starters. Other hot pitas include: a gyro, a Philly steak or chicken, falafel and a bean and brown rice. Cold pitas included hummus and tabouleh, tuna and a California club.
My husband had the grilled Portabello mushroom burger topped with roasted red bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and greens and served with a little crock of Dijon mustard. On the side were hunks of garlic new potatoes. This was our least favorite, as the marinated mushroom had been overcooked and was slightly burnt. The potatoes were too soft and had little flavor of their own. They also offer a black bean burger and a broiled fish sandwich.
There are only four desserts: turtle cheesecake, carrot cake, rice pudding and walnut baklawa. We wanted to stick with the Mediterranean theme and ordered the baklawa. Although we do like this dessert, it is often too sweet and drizzled with too much honey. Pita Jungle's version was one of the best in recent memory. It had a lot of dense, nutty filling with walnuts, pistachios, just the right amount of sweetness and undertones of cinnamon. The crust was layers of thin phyllo dough, not puff pastry, and it was crispy and flaky.
The pleasant surroundings, casual atmosphere, friendly service, good food, large portions and reasonable prices make this a nice addition to the local dining scene.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 1200 Bison Ave. Newport Beach
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (brunch served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)
Appetizers: $3.79 to 12.79
Happy hour tapas: $2 to $3 (3 to 6 p.m.)
Pitas and salads: $6.99 to $13.99
Entrées: $10.69 to $16.99
Desserts: $3.99 to $5.49
Bottles: $25 to $48
By the glass: $6.50 to $15.50
Corkage fee: $10
Information: (949) 706-7711 or http://www.pitajungle.com