Walter Mencken 12:02 p.m., May 30
A friend, who spent time as a 'Zonie, got really excited about seeing the Pita Jungle set to open in Hillcrest. She said the ones back in Arizona were cool places, with live music, good vibes, and tasty food. There are as yet no plans for live entertainment in the San Diego branch of the Mediterranean-themed restaurant, but the extensive menu, which revolves more or less around pita bread, mimics the food from Arizona.
The biggest shocker about the Pita Jungle was just how expansive the interior is. Expectations ran towards a cozy, Mediterranean cafe, but the reality was larger than a lot of restaurants in the neighborhood. The elaborate appearance, courtesy of decorative birdcages and modern art, was also not in keeping with expectations. It's almost had to fathom how Pita Jungle didn't install a stage for live bands, with all that space, but perhaps the restaurants leadership foresees filling all those chairs on a regular basis.
The expansive menu listed starters, salads, entrees, pizzas, burgers, and several different variations on the pita wrap.
Appetizers ranged from a simple plate of hummus or tzatziki sauce for dipping to sauteed jumbo shrimp in a light tomato sauce. An order of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) contained half a dozen that had been poached in olive oil. Served cold, they were still a touch oily, though a good twist of lemon juice served to mitigate the effect of the oil.
Oddly not listed on the menu, Pita Jungle had a few types of soup. A curried coconut soup was very rich and made a much more substantial starter than the gazpacho, which was very light and crisp and served only to whet the appetite.
The menu doesn't distinguish very well between hot pitas, cold pitas, and pita wraps, but it seems that the latter are more substantial fare than the former and indeed carry slightly higher prices tags. The conventional lavosh shawarma wrap was filled with marinated, grilled chicken, tomatoes, onions, and a creamy garlic sauce. The lavosh had been grilled to crispiness and the whole thing was served with a recognizable Greek salad on the side. It was more than enough food for one person at $9.99.
Somewhat more random, the Philly steak pita ($7.99) departed from Mediterranean fare for a bit. Ensconced within a soft pita wrap, the steak, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and cheese, evoked the classic Philly sandwich in almost every way except the bread.
Perhaps the most intriguing dish, a lavosh pizza ($9.99) was sized for one person, but the mountain of fresh vegetables and cheese on top turned it into a meal of some substance. Despite being overzealously topped with dried herbs to the partial exclusion of other flavors, the fresh vegetables were a welcome departure from the thoroughly roasted toppings typically on pizza.
Pita Jungle does have a beer and wine license, but the lure of an iced tea or lemonade is almost too great in conjunction with the characteristically lighter flavors of Mediterranean fare.
Hilllcrest certainly doesn't need another brunch spot, but Pita Jungle will be serving the neighborhood's favorite meal on Sundays from 9-1.
Service could have been brisker, which is likely attributable to the restaurant being rather new, but if Pita Jungle finds a good market for itself in Hillcrest then the generous portions of food and pleasant atmosphere will contribute well to this stretch of University Avenue.
1045 University Avenue
Open Monday-Friday at 10:30, Weekends at 9