With a name like Pita Hot, do you blame me for ignoring this Fullerton spot for years? I used to pass it all the time when I taught at Cal State Fullerton and never once thought of stopping in. It was in a strip mall that had hosted a parade of restaurants that quickly died, and it always seemed empty. And that name! It conjured up images of far-reaching entrepreneurs willing to wash down culture, kind of like The Simpsons episode in which the Springfield Investorettes bought a Fleet-a-Pita franchise and tried to run Marge out of town with the yakuza's help. In fact, it's such a forgettable name I always called it Hot Pita.
Yes, I was harsh. But I finally succumbed some months back, happily discovering I had it all wrong. For Pita Hot is a bona fide Middle Eastern place operating under the guise of mainstream tastes. Sure, you can order your pitas, kebabs and falafels, all delicious and familiar and in wraps or combo plates just as you'll find anywhere else—but displayed prominently on the menu are the treats yet to cross over. Zaatar, that intoxicating mix of spices and olive oil, comes presented as a wrap, as does the tart labneh. Breakfast brings giant bowls of foul, fava beans enlivened with parsley and sumac; it works great on chilly mornings, the kind of mornings we haven't had thanks to this damn drought. The appetizers innocuously titled "red cabbage" and "cucumber yogurt salad," while true to advertising, blast your senses with tartness. And Hot Pita—sorry, Pita Hot (see what I mean about the name?)—remains the only restaurant in Orange County I know that makes mesebaha, a type of hummus spiked with whole chickpeas, jalapeños and garlic that's as powerful as it sounds. And dessert brings homemade baklava.
Pita Hot, 1343 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 449-0100; www.pita-hot.com.
When you take the larger view, you understand the bland name. This stretch of Chapman Avenue is far from the Middle Eastern enclaves of Anaheim and Garden Grove, smack-dab in the section of Fullerton still stuck in 1970s Stepford suburbia, and just down the street are hungry Titans. That name brings in all those people; once in, they're hooked. Even in our brave new Orange County, ethnic restaurants still have to trick the masses into giving them a shot. May the day come when Pita Hot can shed its façade and be proudly Middle Eastern. In the meanwhile, I'll just shut up and stuff my face with hummus, m'kay?