The slogan written on the menus and business cards of Elias Pita confidently states that the restaurant serves the “Best Middle Eastern Food” around. One might think it’s quite a bold statement to make considering the many options of Middle Eastern food in Riverside these days, but after getting a taste of the absolutely addicting hummus and mouth-watering kebab this restaurant offers, you’ll be pretty hard-pressed to argue against its self-assured slogan.
Elias Pita, located on the corner of University and Cranford, has simple enough decor: It’s a well-lit, well-kept 20-foot-square eatery complete with five dining tables and black-and-white photos of Middle Eastern landmarks covering the cream-beige walls. But what makes the place truly stand out as soon as you step foot inside is the service. Ahmad Kamani, the new manager of the restaurant greets his customers with a welcoming smile and calm demeanor. “Marhaba,” he saluted me in Arabic before taking my order.
The choices on the menu ranged from the very appetizing shawarmas to the very affordable (and healthy) salads. And after quickly browsing the options, I went with a small plate of hummus with pita bread as an appetizer, an entree of kufta kebab for the main course and a piece of baklava for dessert.
I was a little surprised that it took no more than five minutes for my appetizers to arrive. But don’t be fooled; despite its short arrival time, you could tell the cooks actually prepared the dish with delicacy. It wasn’t just a small bowl of hummus that was handed to me; instead, the hummus, with its creamy texture, was served on a plate and formed into a ring that surrounded a dip of sweet yet tangy sauce, all peppered with red, spicy powder. And when combined with the soft and warm texture of pita bread that came with it, it created a sharp but sweet flavor. I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and this course set the precedent for the rest of the meal.
When the entree arrived shortly afterward, I was almost worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish it all. After all, the appetizer was a pretty loaded meal and this next dish was twice as big. But I dug in. And my goodness, was that some tasty kebab!
The sliced meat was served on top of rice, which was accompanied by a salad composed of lettuce, cucumbers, green chili peppers, grilled onions and tomatoes. Granted, the salad on its own was probably the least appetizing of the entree — I had to pour Tahini sauce just to give it an extra kick — but as a whole, the different flavors of the dish complemented each other to near perfection. The kebab, with its crispy outer layer, had the right amount of that smoky flavor one often looks for in meat, but its succulent insides also gave it a juicy taste. If you like to try different things with your food, I’d recommend wrapping the meat on some pita bread and mixing it with the rice, the Tahini and even bits and pieces of the salad. It makes for one heck of a wrap.
The baklava that concluded my meal was oddly shaped at first glance, as it was my first encounter with the pastry, but I was amazed by its sweet taste. Its base almost felt like a graham cracker and it was layered with thin sheets of phyllo dough, nuts and green honeyed sauce. What’s great about the pastry is its strange aftereffect: It seemed like the taste of the sugary sauce never ceased to end after each bite. I honestly felt like I could chew on the pastry for an hour and still taste its candied flavor after every bite. Simply put, it did what any good dessert should do: It made me long for more after I finished it.
Aside from the friendly service and great-tasting food, another plus about this restaurant is that its prices are quite affordable — especially for college students trying to get the biggest bang for their buck. My entree could have easily been priced at $20 due to its quality and quantity, but only cost me $11.95. The hummus — my personal favorite dish — was only $2.95 while the baklava was priced at $1.50. And, oh yeah, there’s also a discount for students who show their school IDs at the counter. So, hey, there’s an added bonus!
The ambiance, the service, the prices and especially the food make this a great restaurant for customers looking for quality meals that won’t hurt their wallets. Give it a shot. You’ll leave the place with a desire to go back as soon as possible.