Pita Bonita: More Than Just a Pretty Pita

October 15, 2010

In a tourist town known for fantastic food, a restaurant has to offer something special to make an impression. Pita Bonita, a new Middle Eastern eatery outside the gastronomically diverse southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo, does just that.

Pita Bonita

Eylon Lifshitz and Alison White welcome guests in three languages to Pita Bonita restaurant outside Puerto Viejo, on the southern Caribbean coast.

Israeli-U.S. couple Eylon Lifshitz and Alison White opened the restaurant in July on the ground level of their home between Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. Since then, word has been spreading about the restaurant’s delicious Middle Eastern specialties and fresh-baked pita bread.

Customers are welcomed first by the sign out front – in Spanish, English and Hebrew – and next by a smiling White into a spacious, open-air dining area scattered with wooden tables. Serving customers is White’s domain, and she manages it with an easy and friendly proficiency.

Lifshitz, who has worked in restaurants for 10 years, works his magic in the kitchen. From the hummus and falafel to the mouthwatering pita bread – delicious enough to eat plain – everything here is fresh and made fromscratch, based on traditional recipes gathered from various Middle Eastern and North African countries. Ittakes two days, Lifshitz says, to make a batch of his creamy, excellent hummus. A similarlypainstaking process is used to produce the restaurant’s crunchy, flavorful falafel, which comes stuffed in a pita with tomatoes, onions, sauerkraut and tahini (₡3,500/$7), or as a main plate with hand-cut French fries, tahini and Arabic salad, a refreshing side of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions and cilantro (₡5,000/$10).

Pita Bonita

More vegetarian delights await in the array of unique salads and sides, including assorted olives, tabbouleh, carrot-and-parsley salad, fried cauliflower, baba ghanoush and garlicky Moroccan eggplant (₡1,000-1,800/$2-3.60), as well as the shakshuka, a traditional Middle Eastern dish of eggs cooked in a spiced tomato sauce (₡4,000/$8). The “open table for two,” a selection of salads, olives, hummus and pita bread (₡7,000/$14) – with a side of falafel added (₡2,500/$5) – is a deliciously ample, variety-packed meal for two people.

Carnivores can sink their teeth into real lamb kebabs, grilled on the spot on Lifshitz’s barbecue (₡4,500/$9 in pita, ₡6,900/$13.80 as main plate), and chicken shawarma, redolent with Middle Eastern spices (₡4,500/$9 in pita, ₡5,700/$11.40 as main plate). For those who like it hot, a must-try is Lifshitz’s special Yemen hot sauce, a piquant blend of parsley, cilantro and hot peppers.

The perfect end to any meal at Pita Bonita is a Turkish coffee (₡1,200/$2.40), sweet and appropriately sludgy at the bottom of the cup, with a slice of White’s exquisite fruit cheesecake (₡1,900/$3.80).

The restaurant has a full bar and offers a selection of wines, including a Spanish cava and an Israeli Recanati (₡9,000-17,000/$18-34 per bottle).

The congenial Lifshitz makes a point of regularly stepping out of the kitchen to ask diners if they’re happy with their meals. The answer is often an enthusiastic but silent, stuffed-mouth nod.

Lifshitz and White say they are grateful to be part of the Puerto Viejo community.

“We really love the Limón area and are very happy to here,” Lifshitz says. “It’s such a beautiful place.”

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