103 N. Pleasant Street, Amherst (between Panda East and Bart’s Ice Cream)
Casual Mediterranean Restaurant
Prices: Quite affordable, especially in comparison to Moti’s
Recommended Dishes: Kibbeh Football, Chicken Kabob Pocket, Hummus, Grape Leaves
There’s a venue right off North Pleasant Street that boasts some of simplest yet most satisfying food in the Valley. No, it’s not that weird alleyway next to Antonio’s. Tucked away and slightly hidden, recently-opened Pita Pockets sits in the spot previously occupied by Captain Candy near Panda East. The first time we visited, we came across it purely by accident. We were walking, hungrily, across the no-man’s-land that is Amherst downtown after 10 p.m. A sign advertising a giant falafel drew our attention. Though we were already carrying a late night dozen donuts special from Glazed, there was no way we weren’t going to explore further. We hoped for some good Mediterranean food to procrastin-eat, but what we got was so much more.
“Come on in, guys! I’ll cook you something tasty!” Before we even reached the counter, a remarkably enthusiastic father-son duo showered us with attention, encouraging us to try assortments of delicious-sounding dishes and complimenting us on everything from the impressiveness of our tastes to how much delicious food they bet we could eat.
“You look like you would enjoy Combo Plates! Would you like some delicious Combo Plates, guys?” We’ve been to Pita Pockets three times now, and this interaction — unlike Val’s General Tsao’s Chicken — wasn’t just a special treat. The incidental conversation one has with the proprietors is a very memorable part of the experience at Pita Pockets. While you’re waiting they go beyond small-talk to make you feel welcomed; they create a homely atmosphere that makes you genuinely excited to eat food that they are genuinely excited about preparing. When taking pictures of the food with some friends who happened to walk in, the proprietors couldn’t wait to get involved, providing amusing and helpful advice about how to take the pictures. They went around the store and asked us, as well as everyone else, about our meals and provided advice on ordering non-menu items and unique ways to eat their food. Unique to the experience is that they display no hesitance towards interaction, something which stands out in a town filled with nice looking and tasty food experiences that often lack personality.
The same qualities of the atmosphere are also manifest in the food. Simply put, the food feels natural. There is elegance in its simplicity, in the way that it doesn’t mask itself in excessive sauces and sides. The food just speaks for itself. And it has a kind of natural flavorfulness that extends beyond the individual dish, making you confident that anything you try will be delicious. The meat is naturally succulent, the hummus is filling but not too indulgent, and the vegetables are fresh. They’re simple ingredients, but they all work really well together without all the fuss that “fancier” places might feel pressured to make. And this simplicity also of course informs the food’s affordability — the prices are also not too bloated.
The first time we went to Pita Pockets was within three days of their opening. The only other customer was a classmate who told us that he was there on orders from friends who had already marked the spot as a favorite. On our third visit, the place was packed. Ten Amherst students had come by before we left, and several times the first things that were said in conversations was “Isn’t this place just the best?”.
Likewise, a friend who had been away for the year on leave had already heard about and visited Pita Pockets upon a recent visit to campus by the time we met with him. Point being, Pita Pockets, despite it’s unassuming location and small size, is growing in reputation, and rightfully so. It’s a strong alternative to the unhealthy, greasy Extra-Cheese-Five-Meat-Mayonnaise-Zones which taint dorm rooms far and wide around Amherst, especially late at night. Pita Pockets is open until 11 p.m. every night, so they won’t be able to help your weekly 2 a.m. essay-writing binge, or any other kind of 2 a.m. binge college kids may be prone to, unless of course you think ahead a few hours. But for a second semester senior thesis writer whose daily schedule goes something like: stay up until 9 am, wake up at noon for class, nap at 6 pm and then sleep through Val until 9 a.m. or 10 p.m., Pita Pockets is the perfect “how I am going to regain energy to feign working on another page or two tonight” spot. With consistently strong, flavorful food and a unique, fun atmosphere that just begs you to come back and try something else, Pita Pockets is a great addition to the Amherst town line-up. So, what are you waiting for? Let them make you something tasty.