Pita Jungle is the Go-To Spot for Delicious, Healthy and Affordable Mediterranean-Inspired Fare in Hillcrest

Wood fired mahi-mahi

September 17, 2012

After moving to Arizona from the south of France, Andreane Esclapez began her life in America as a hostess with Pita Jungle - at the time only a small, budding Arizona franchise that adamantly adhered to its motto - "The Art of Eating Healthy."  Within a few short years, and after assisting in the opening of numerous locations around Arizona, Andreane worked her way up to become part owner of her own flourishing location in Phoenix.  This summer, Andreane expanded Pita Jungle’s franchise west to her favorite area of San Diego – the thriving and bustling neighborhood of Hillcrest – a perfect locale for a brand that’s fun, wholesome, nourishing, and amazingly affordable.
Andreane Escalpez
Despite Pita Jungle’s franchise status, Andreane was given ample license to design and implement the company’s ideal in her own creative way.  Each Pita Jungle location is vastly different as each strives to immerse itself into the community in which it lies.  For the Hillcrest site, Andreane picked the historic Charles Jurman Building on the main drag of University Avenue, which dates back to 1910.   Andreane was sure to preserve many of the ancient attributes and designed the interior to pay homage to the time period in which it was originally constructed.

Andreane takes such artistic design seriously, admitting that crafting the restaurant interior is her favorite task when opening a restaurant.   She chose the motif and décor - from the tiles, to the bar stool cushions, to the old fashioned bar - and every detail in between.  Modern paintings by local artists adorn the stucco’d walls contrasting with the old-fashioned bird cage chandeliers and wrought iron chairs, creating a hip dichotomy between the old and new.  Andreane is no stranger to detail - a relief painting of a tree masks a rear wall; a discrete bar evokes speakeasy-style times; huge round booths of the Don Corleon era provide intimate spaces for large groups; the diverse array of seating creates for a compartmentalized yet flow-y feel; and every element exudes the class and sophistication of its selector.

Once you settle into your nook, be entertained by the exhibit kitchen and the good vibes filling the air, and be ready to indulge in some of the ample assortment of Mediterranean and Greek delicacies.   You’ll be hard pressed to pick from the lengthy menu, but your wallet will be thrilled to know that the most expensive item on the menu is wood-fired fresh salmon, ringing in at $15.99!  So order away, share many plates, and taste what the Mediterranean has to offer!

A must-have is the hummus with grilled chicken starter ($9.29), a huge plate of seasoned chicken and toasted pine nuts served with a trio of hummus - a traditional chickpea puree with tahini sauce, fresh garlic and lemon juice.  Aside from the original, one hummus is flavored with roasted red bell peppers and the other with cilantro and jalapeno - my personal favorite.  The homemade hummuses were smooth and creamy with light flavors that flawlessly complemented the savory, citrusy and spicy chicken, which is marinated overnight for very enhanced flavors.  Served with two pitas, this dish could be a meal for two in itself!  This appetizer definitely excited the palate and piqued everyone’s appetite.

Next we shared the Mediterranean chicken salad ($10.29): a very generous and beautiful serving of mixed greens, feta, cubed grilled chicken tossed with diced tomatoes, onions, roasted bell peppers, pine nuts, cucumbers, corn, golden raisins, and taboule, dressed in a lemon vinaigrette.  This salad was a meal in itself, with each bite revealing a different ingredient and combination of flavors.  We brought some home and it was just as yummy hours later.

Whether as an appetizer or a complement to any meal, I’d recommend every table order a Mediterranean platter ($10.99) in order to really delve into the traditional and authentic experience.  The tremendous dish comes with hummus, baba ganoosh, creamy and garlicky tzatziki, parsley-heavy taboule, huge chunks of freshly made feta cheese, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), crisp and crunchy falafel, green beans, and two pitas.  We loved the variety of ingredients on the plate, and Pita Jungle’s taboule may have converted me to a parsley fan.  I just wish our guest didn’t gorge all the feta!

Of the featured specials we sampled the wood-fired mahi mahi (pictured above) served with cilantro, jalapeno hummus, pico de gallo, pine nuts, pea sprouts, lemon and deliciously spiced pita chips ($11.99).  I thoroughly enjoyed piling each of the diverse ingredients atop a pita chip - reminiscent of nachos, but elevated by the fresh flaky fish.  Once again, the price of this dish left us delightfully shocked.

I always really, really want to love a veggie burger, but as any aspiring vegetarian knows, good veggie patties are few and far between.  Fortunately for us, Pita Jungle’s chipotle black bean burger is spot on: the homemade black bean patty with onions, garlic, cilantro, corn, bell peppers, carrots, oats, cranberries, jalapeno peppers, chipotle peppers, and a blend of spices makes for a flavor packed burger with the texture and consistency desired from the real thing($8.99).  Served atop a hearty bun with chipotle hummus, lettuce, pea sprouts, and tomatoes, the combination of ingredients make this huge burger a healthy and satisfying alternative to meat.  Interesting to note is the fact that none of PJ’s four ‘healthy burgers’ are made with meat!  The burgers come with a heaping portion of garlic ‘new’ potatoes, which I absolutely adored stuffing my face with.  

Though their beer list includes 20+ bottles and drafts, including personal favorite Racer 5 IPA, we paired the dishes with a bold and beautiful 2010 Chilean cabernet, Root 1, which was filled with flavor, refreshing and somewhat sweet.

To finish the meal, we shared an order of Pita Jungle's rice pudding, and we were pleasantly surprised at how light and creamy their rendition was compared to traditional versions.  Sprinkled with cinammon and garnished with golden raisins and fresh strawberries, this classic dessert was a wonderful end to an incredible meal that left us feeling satisfied-stuffed, not sluggishly bloated.

While already extremely reasonable in price, Pita Jungle offers happy hour prices EVERYDAY from 2 pm to 6 pm and 9 pm to close with ridiculous tapas specials and unbeatable drink prices.

Get to Pita Jungle for some refreshingly healthy dishes, an iced cold beer, and just chill in this artsy, laid back new locale!   If we lived closer, we’d be there weekly for dishes singing with flavor that don’t leave you feeling guilty in the gut - or the wallet!

1045 University Avenue, Hillcrest
(619)-255-PITA (7482)

Mon-Thurs 10:30am-10:00pm
Fri 10:30am-11:00pm
Sat 10:00am -11:00pm
Sun 10:00am -10:00pm
Brunch served Sat & Sun 10:00am - 2:00pm

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