The ubiquitous pita bread, descended from flatbreads that originated thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent, has become so popular it’s the theme of many restaurants, including several chains with the word “pita” in their names. Sometimes, though, there’s still room for a family business with a single location with a focus on pita and the kabobs, dips, and salads it can accompany. On 19th Avenue’s international restaurant corridor, Zuki’s Pita is just that type of place: a neighborhood shop for Mediterranean food in a casual counter service environment.
Zuki’s is found in a strip mall just under half a mile south of the 19th Avenue / Camelback light rail station. The restaurant can also be approached via the recently upgraded Grand Canal multi-use path, which crosses the light rail tracks near Campbell / Central station. Given the proximity to a major bicycling route, it’s unfortunate that Zuki’s has no bike rack. Some fences that separate parking lots seem to be the best alternative to that missing infrastructure. Look for a colorful exterior marked with photos of Zuki’s food and a bright, colorful sign overhead.
The inside is much the same, cheerful and well-illuminated with a sunny Meditteranean theme.. Tables are widely spaced due to pandemic-induced occupancy restrictions, one wall is covered with the names of menu items in bold print, and other features travel posters depicting Middle Eastern sights. Customers order at the counter, and food is prepared in the open kitchen with vertical spits of meat and grills visible from nearly every table. The actual menu is found on reader boards to the right of the counter, as well as printed brochures at the counter.
Orders can start with pita and a dip like creamy hummus, optionally augmented with jalepeños for some heat, or smooth and slightly smoky baba ganoush made with pureed eggplant. These appetizers can be combined with generously sized spheres of falafel and grapes leaves stuffed with rice for an entree-sized vegetarian platter. The falafel, which hides a yielding, moist interior within its crisp outer layer, can also be the foundation of its own entree platter or a sandwich when wrapped with a pita. Zuki’s pitas are Greek-style discs rather than hollow with pockets.
Meats at Zuki’s include both beef and chicken shawarma, thinly sliced and generously seasoned, and available either on a plate or inside a sandwich. Gyros features bigger slices of meat from the ever-popular cone, and kabobs of both chicken and beef involve large but tender chunks of meat served over yellow rice. It’s easy to overlook the kafta, skewers of ground meat, but this option’s texture and flavoring makes it among the best choices on the menu. For those who want it all, the Zuki’s combo features one kabob each of chicken, beef, and kofta.
The platters come not only with a piece of pita and a bed of fluffy rice, but also a serving of hummus and a small Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, black olives, and feta with romaine lettuce. With sandwiches, either a salad or a serving of fries can be added as part of a combo meal that also includes a drink. For the less adventurous, Zuki’s also serves hamburgers, plain grilled chicken, chicken wings with myriad sauces at varied spice levels, and even the seemingly inescapable children’s menu chicken nuggets.
The beverages choices include fountain sodas, ice tea, and a refrigerated case full of bottles. The most interesting choice is a drink made with basil seeds with pomegranate, blueberry, and orange flavors. The seeds act almost like tiny boba beads, adding a bit of chewiness and viscosity. The one omission on the menu is any sort of dessert, not even a pastry like baklava that might be expected with the restaurant’s Meditteranean theme. Nevertheless, the platters are so copious that many diners may walk away with little appetite anyway.
Situated between a longstanding Vietnamese restaurant and a Guatemalan grocery, Zuki’s fits into the multifarious mosaic of 19th Avenue, where vastly different cultures and cuisines are often found on the same block. The restaurant’s menu and format is not necessarily unique or innovative, but Zuki’s is the type of dependable and consistent place that works its way into a neighborhood’s fabric, occupying a vital niche in the process. Throughout the city, there are innumerable places with brands of pita-this and pita-that, but there’s only one Zuki’s
4522 N. 19th Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85015