Flavor Wanted

Pita Jungle offers good service and a cool vibe—but the menu doesn't match the food

A menu is like a promise. Diners make choices based on what they read, trusting that what is described will show up on their plates.

Unfortunately, at the Tucson Pita Jungle location, the menu far too often says one thing—and the food says another.

Let's start with some starters. The spelling and punctuation here are quoted from the menu.

Gambas con ajo ($8.99), "Five jumbo shrimp sautéed in olive oil with garlic and cilantro in a light tomato sauce. Served with a Greek pita topped with cheese and pesto." The reality: The shrimp was nicely done, tender and with the tails still on them—although I wouldn't call them "jumbo." The sauce was missing any hint of garlic; instead, the dominating flavor was pepper. The pita triangles did have mozzarella cheese on them, yet what was underneath was just chopped basil, not pesto.

Mozzarella tomato and basil ($7.49), "Fresh mozzarella layered with tomatoes, and basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Served with pita chips." The reality: This dish matched the description, but the problem here was the tomatoes. Pita Jungle prides itself on "fresh and healthy" food, but the tomatoes were nowhere near ripe, which totally ruined the dish. The pita chips were so-so.

Spanakopita ($3.89), "Layers of crisp fillo dough stuffed with fresh spinach and feta cheese." The reality: We received one piece of spanakopita, sliced in half so that the inside was exposed. The phyllo was overcooked and dry. And as far as the spinach goes, there was so little that you certainly couldn't call this "stuffed." If there was cheese inside, you'd never know it. I love spanakopita, and this version was a big disappointment.

Hummus (small $4.89, large $5.99), "Chickpea puree with tahini sauce, seasoned with fresh garlic and lemon juice." The reality: There was an odd aftertaste, and the consistency was too smooth. It could've used some lemon to lift the flavor of the whole dish. We did order an extra pita (39 cents). The pitas are larger here than found elsewhere.

Now for the entrées.

Grilled vegetable salad ($8.99) plus chicken ($3.99), "Lightly sautéed carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, mushrooms, squash, tomato, broccoli and grilled eggplant. Served on a bed of mixed greens with lemon vinaigrette." The reality: The veggies were sautéed, so why call them "grilled"? The fact that they were greasy didn't help the taste or the texture. The greens were unevenly tossed; you wouldn't know the dressing was even there, and the chicken was flavorless.

Chicken putanesca ($11.99), "Marinated grilled chicken, pan-tossed with tomatoes and garlic in olive oil, linguini pasta, capers and fresh herbs." The reality: Puttanesca sauce traditionally contains anchovies and red-pepper flakes. Neither was part of the dish. However, there were bigger problems. There was not one caper, and the chicken was bland to the point that it tasted a lot like the chicken found in the grilled vegetable salad.

Mediterranean roasted chicken (shawarma) pita ($6.49), "Grilled marinated chicken breast in a pita, with mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, pickles, garlic sauce and tahini." The reality: This was not shawarma; this was the same chicken found in the other two chicken dishes, stuffed in pita bread. The tzatziki was only on the back half of the sandwich. I was also put off by the pickle.

California beach club ($7.49), "Sliced turkey breast, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, mixed greens, wrapped in a pita with tzatziki." The reality: This was perhaps the blandest dish of all. There was nothing on the veggies, and even the tzatziki sauce, served on the side, didn't have the zing that makes this sauce so special.

As for the sides and desserts, there are no real descriptions, so the dishes' titles need to say everything.

Garlic new potatoes ($2.99): New potatoes, yes; garlic, no. They were tender but pretty much flavorless.

Turtle cheesecake ($4.89): Turtles, to me, are chocolaty, nutty and gooey from caramel. All of these elements were here, but in short supply, especially the chocolate.

Baklawa ($2.89): The big claim is, "It's homemade." Well, I've had plenty of great "homemade" baklava versions, and they all beat this one, hands down. There wasn't enough honey or nuts layered into the dry phyllo.

An aside: I ordered freshly made lemonade ($2.79), which was good and tangy, but served at room temperature.

On the bright side, the service was professional and friendly. One server actually asked if we wanted separate checks. The only problem was that during both visits, we weren't finished with our starters before the entrées were brought to the table.

The décor is industrial chic, with artwork that takes hints from Peter Max and Pablo Picasso. On the far wall is the biggest mirror I've ever seen, and a full bar sits on one side of the room. On the other side, you can sit at a bar and watch the kitchen staff prepare your food. It's nice.

The whole premise of Pita Jungle is to prove that healthy Mediterranean food can also be tasty. But what we ate was generally dumbed-down and bland.

If the purpose is to show people that healthy food can be delicious, I am not convinced.

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