Pita House: The Restaurant Up the Block
Danielle Pascale ‘23
After a long tiring day of kindergarten in Damascus Syria, I strolled into my house and threw my backpack on a chair. I noticed a heavenly smell emerging from the kitchen. I turned to follow it. In the kitchen, I saw our wonderful housekeeper, Damika, bustling around containers of freshly cooked Lebanese food. My eyes grew wide and my mouth began to water. I ran up to her, tugged at her sleeve and whined, “Damika can I please have just one little bite of something? Please!!” With a pitiful look on her face she replied, “Danielle, you know you’ll have to wait for your father to get home. This is dinner for the family, not your after school snack.” My kindergarten self practically fell to the ground in agony. My mind was already wandering to what array of food could be in the brown paper bags…
My family moved back to our townhouse on Royal Street in Old Town Alexandria the following year due to the civil war in Syria. Within days of leaving Syria, I was longing for Lebanese cuisine. Naturally, I was ecstatic to learn of a family-owned Lebanese restaurant, Pita House, at the end of our block. On a summer afternoon when my grandparents came over for dinner, my mom suggested we try Pita House, as she knew how desperately I had been craving Lebanese food. We moseyed up the street in the sweltering heat. Even though it was less than a block away, we were all hot and bothered by the time we reached the restaurant. By the time we were done with dinner, there was not a doubt in my six-year-old mind that this was my favorite restaurant. Apparently my opinion was not unique; it is still a tradition for my family to go there for occasions ranging from Sunday night dinners, to birthdays and graduations.
Due to Pita House’s tremendous success, it has traded its corner spot on Royal Street for a piece of prime real estate on King Street, the main street of Old Town. Gone is the nondescript brown sign and in its place is a bright orange awning. My family was worried about our favorite restaurant seemingly doing a full 180. We were anxious that the food might have lost its
flavours and the restaurant its family feel. However, our fears were invalidated the second we opened the door. I took a deep breath and my nose filled with the smell of freshly baked pita. I knew nothing had changed.
Once you enter Pita House, you are surrounded by neutral browns with the occasional pop of bright orange. It is always dimly lit, no matter the time of day and there are candles on every table, providing a welcoming and peaceful environment. Additionally, there are plenty of cozy booths and tables. Each table top is crafted out of a sort of marble, providing an easy-to-clean but sophisticated look nonetheless. Pita House remains family owned, and the service can be slow but is undeniably worth the wait. Additionally, in my hundreds or thousands of trips to Pita House, I have never had an unpleasant experience with the staff. Their authentic Arabic accents and calming mannerisms transport me back to the days I spent eating Lebanese food in Syria.
Now, once you are settled into your comfortable booth or table, whatever you prefer, hopefully you are feeling relaxed and hungry. It is probably time to think about what you are going to order. Typically, my family will do mainly Mezze (appetizers) and maybe a few entrees that everyone splits. If we still have room, we will follow the exquisite meal with one or two desserts for the table.
My all time favorite Mezze are the ‘sambousek cheese pies’ but better known to Arabic speakers as ‘Fatayer’. They are crafted with perfectly crisp yet doughy bread, and are filled with warm gooey cheese. Once you take a bite, the cheese will ooze from the pie and the whole bite will melt in your mouth. Careful though, they can be very hot right when they come out. The next Mezze that I recommend is definitely a classic, the hummus. It is served in a bowl with chickpeas, olive oil and a za’tar (a widely used arabic spice, consisting of herbs, sesame and salt) topping it. I recommend mixing it up with a spoon, watching the flavours meld together right before you. Then, take a warm piece of freshly cooked pita, dip in the hummus and enjoy! I also dip the cheese pies in the hummus to add a new flavor every so often. The final Mezze I endorse is none other than tabbouleh itself. Tabbouleh is an inviting mix of parsley, bulgar wheat, tomato and mint. The refreshing salad is then tossed in a mix of what tastes like lemon juice, olive oil salt and pepper. Tabbouleh is the perfect lightweight appetizer if you wish to save more of your space for the main course and dessert.
As for a main course, I only have one recommendation. This is not because I do not like the other options, but because what I am about to suggest is so delicious I have simply never had a reason to try anything else. So, without further adieu, I present to you... chicken shawarma, a moist chicken breast seasoned with a variety of Lebanese spices and served with a side of rice and salad. The chicken is so soft it will dissolve in your mouth and it is perfectly accented with the salt and cinnamon seasoned rice. I also find wrapping the chicken in pita and dipping in hummus provides a more sandwichy feel.
Once you have filled yourself with these delectable dishes, you may begin craving something sweet to polish the meal off. In this case, you must go with the baklava. The baklava consists of layers of phyllo dough with a filling of chopped nuts and drizzled with rosewater syrup that drips out of the pastry after every bite.
Now after all this, you must surely be craving a meal at the acclaimed Pita House. The address is 719 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314 and the hours are 11AM - 10PM daily. Over the years, Pita House has become much more than just a restaurant, it has become a staple of my childhood. Everytime I walk through the doors, a part of me is transported back to my kindergarten days, playing outside in warm, sunny Damascus before running inside to freshly cooked Lebanese food for dinner. Another part of me drifts back to the many times I spent sitting in the Pita House booths with my parents and grandparents, listening to their stories. The last part of me stays right there in the moment and absorbs all the new memories and stories that will take place on the current visit.