Pita Bar & Grill Has Plenty of Things To Get Excited About
There’s been a lot of falafel talk on the site lately. Yesterdays Profiled Lunch’er, Rachael, asked for falafel recs in the comments, and last week’s Profiled Lunch’er, Julie, mentioned Pita Bar & Grill on Fairfax as her go-to falafel joint. A fried chick pea ball craving was bound to follow. My old stomping grounds was chock full of falafel (both Israeli and Lebanese mostly), but my exposure here in L.A. has been limited to a pretty bad version at Zankou. (Stick to the chicken was the main takeaway from that lunch!)
Clearly it was time for a decent falafel lunch, so yesterday I took Lunch’er Julie’s advice and headed over to Pita Bar & Grill to check it out.
Pita Bar & Grill is situated on one of the Jewier streets in L.A. (I can say that because I’m Jewish right?) and they serve a pretty traditional Israeli style falafel. But they’re not Kosher, and they’re certainly not old school (they’ve been open less than 2 years, and clearly are going for the stylish fast food lunch spot that is inviting to everybody, over the dingy falafel counter look). But they’re Jew-ish, making it the perfect pre-Rosh Hashanah lunch for a guy who had to be told by his Mom yesterday that tonight is the Jewish New Year.
The menu is not that cheap, but it’s not too expensive either. Pita sandwiches run from $6 to $8, baguettes or laffa are $10, and platters- which come with hummus and Israeli salad- are mostly out of the ML price range at $12. They also have monthly specials, which are clearly the best deals like this month’s Falafel pita + french fries + a house made drink (mint lemonade, almond milk, watermelon juice or pineapple juice) for $9. How could I not?
The falafel pita ($6 ala carte) is served Israeli style, in a circular puffy pita pocket that is split vertically to create a pouch. You can specify what you want in the sandwich, but the default is “everything”- which includes Israeli salad (diced tomatoes and cucumbers), cubed pickles and pickled cabbages, plus sauerkraut, and hummus. I didn’t love the sauerkraut- but that’s just me. You can ask for it without. The falafel itself had great flavor, and the balls themselves weren’t too big, so they were nice and crunchy- but didn’t get dried out on the inside.
The order of fries that comes with the combo is massive, and (if I’m not mistaken) were a mix between regular and sweet potato! Not bad at all. They were soggy, but I was still totally into them… especially because they were clearly cut from fresh potatoes. That, plus their house made mint lemonade, makes this month’s special a great deal.
If you prefer wraps to pita pockets, order your sandwich as a laffa. It’s more like a lavash than the fresh baked laffa I used to be able to get in Midtown (anybody know where I can get something like this in L.A.!?)- but if you prefer a wrap, laffa is the way to go.
We also tried their sabich, a traditional Israeli sandwich made with hard boiled egg and eggplant. Usually this sandwich is made with fried eggplant, but as is typical in L.A. they opted for a healthier roasted Eggplant spread kind of thing (think, tahini-less babaganoush.) The spread was incredibly tasty, but the layering of the sandwich was terrible… so the first 3 bites were all Israeli salad, the middle three were all eggplant and hummus, and you didn’t really get any egg until you got to the bottom. The pita had no chance, it fell apart by the middle of the sandwich. (Maybe that’s why the special offers it to you on a baguette… even though I’ve only ever had sabich on a pita.)
Speaking of baguettes, $10 is a bit much to pay for a sandwich (the pita sandwiches are cheaper) but the bread they use for the baguettes is surprisingly great. They don’t always have merguez, but when they do it’s as good an option as any. A perfect filling for the baguette, it comes topped with everything you get on the falafel. It was completely different than the merguez sandwich we loved just down the street at Deli Bar, but slightly more satisfying.
Finally, I couldn’t leave without trying the other meats. In addition to the merguez, Pita Bar & Grill also has shawerma (a mixture of lamb and chicken), chicken (kebab or breast), kefta (ground beef patties) and regular shish kebab. You can get any of them as a pita or baguette sandwich, or as a plate for $12. But just for the month of September they have a special mama-jama platter special… a 3 meat platter, with a house made drink, for $15. Admittedly paying $15 for lunch totally flies in the face of everything I have ever preached on this site, but it had to be done. It was the easiest way to try multiple menu items. Uh, yeah… that’s it. Ordering the giagantor platter had nothing to do with the fact that I am a fat pig who can’t control himself. It had everything to do with the fact that I needed to try different stuff on the menu. You know… for science. And in my defense- and you will never hear me say this ever again about any lunch I ever eat, and if you throw it back in my face down the line I will deny I ever said it- the $15 platter is big enough to split between two people.
That mound you see is shawerma, kefta (hiding on the left), and chicken schnitzel (on top) served with hummus, israeli salad, and beneath all that meat some kind lentil thing. The chicken schnitzel had the least flavor of the three (needed a bit of salt) but it was fried… so that more than made up for that. And the kefta beef patty was tasty enough. But the real star of the plate was the shawerma, which they make in house by layering chicken and lamb together on the spit in thin layers. The result? Moist, marinated ribbons of spiced meat, with this great crust on the outside. Sandwiched with a bit of the warm pita they give you on the side, and dipped in the hummus (with a scoop of Israeli salad as chaser) it’s a great bite of food (and possibly the real reason to hit up Pita Bar & Grill.)
Not enough food for you? But wait. There’s more. With every order you’re allowed to help yourself to the free pickle bar, which has carrots, beet juice pickled turnips, onions and cauliflower. So great. That’s also where you can help yourself to their 5 special sauces: harissa (spicy red sauce), schuge (spicy green sauce), tarna (garlicky white sauce), tahini (sesame seed paste), and amba- an Israeli pickled mango sauce that (just as a warning) is not sweet at all.
For a first falafel outing in L.A. I was pretty excited by the inexplicably named Pita Bar & Gril. Is this the best L.A. has to offer? Doubtful. But if I worked near Fairfax, and was looking for an authentic Israeli falafel in a nicer than average setting, this would be my go to spot. (Just a warning though… they’ll be closed tomorrow for Rosh Hashanah. They might not be Kosher, but they are clearly more Jewish than I.)
THE + (What somebody who likes this place will say)
- Free pickle bar FTW!
- I love all their sauce options. And the fact that you can use as much as you want (And they have amba!)
- The pita bread is so great and puffy when it’s warm, and the baguette isn’t too bad either.
- They use Israeli salad instead of the lettuce and tomato you find at a lot of places
- Their falafel isn’t too large, or too dry. And very flavorful.
- Ooof, that shawerma is sooo good
- The monthly specials are really good deals
- You can totally split that $15 platter between two people
- Did I mention I love pickles?
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)
- I don’t love pickles… so maybe Israeli falafel isn’t for me?
- They don’t fry the eggplant for their sabich?!
- It’s kind of expensive (especially the platters), and a little too fancy for me
- The specials change every month, so the $9 falafel pita/fries/drink deal won’t be around forever
- Their layering could use a bit of work so you get a bit of everything in every bite in the pita sandwiches
Pita Bar & Grill, 519 N. Fairfax Ave., 323-653-9024