I wanted to start this off by saying – I know this is a little late, and I sincerely wish it weren’t. But if there is one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s that you can never expect things to go the way you planned them. There are a tremendous number of unexpected twists life might throw at you. And I’m just glad I can still be sitting here right now sharing this with you.
This week, I’m writing from sunny Arizona and California. It’s my senior spring break, and one of my best friends, Jordan, has taken me home with her for the holiday. We spent the first few days enjoying the warm valley weather in Arizona,and arrived yesterday in Los Angeles.
I’ve had a blast eating authentic Mexican fare and discovering the joys of Jamba Juice – a smoothie chain that offers you the ability to make your drinks with 1/3 the calories and sugar, to make your beverages dairy free and soy free. I enjoyed the Caribbean Passion for breakfast one day; only 160 calories in a small beverage packed with fresh blended fruits, including strawberries and peaches, and all-natural passionfruit and mango juices.
On Monday, we dined at the Pita Jungle; a Mediterranean spot featuring healthy cuisine from the Middle East, Greece, and Lebanon. This trendy spot features an outdoor patio and a fresh, young vibe. A variety of hummus flavors and an extensive vegetarian menu made it a must-do while Jordan and I explored her hometown. And with the motto: The art of eating healthy, I knew I would enjoy my Pita Jungle experience.
With a vast online nutrition database, it’s possible to scope out the menu options, determine the appropriate serving size, and calorie content before you even get to the restaurant.
Recommended Dishes: The Greek Salad and the Grilled Vegetable Salad are two of the healthier entree options, as well as the Black Bean Burger and the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Burger. Substitute the heavy grilled potatoes with a side salad, and skip the bun – instead, enjoy pita with hummus or delicious babah ganoush as an appetizer. When I ordered the vegan Grilled Vegetable Salad, I requested that my vegetables be steamed. Cutting the oil out of the preparation saved hundreds of calories, and without the dressing, which racks in about 180 calories per salad, the dish was significantly lighter than the standard preparation.
The Not-So-Good Bite: Unfortunately, we found many of the dishes to be overseasoned. Jordan’s spanikopita was heavy with garlic, and the lemon vinaigrette was particularly tangy. As a general recommendation, I’d ask for any sauces or dressings on the side; not only will this decrease calories, but you’ll also avoid the excessive salt and pepper and citrus that affected quite a few of our dishes.
The Good Bite: At the Pita Jungle, you get what you pay for. Reasonable prices are met by perfectly appropriate portions. My nine-dollar salad was definitely nine-dollars of food. One thing that’s important to remember is that dinner-sized salads are often too big. The Pita Jungle recommends eating half the salad as a serving. Of course, this means leftovers for lunch the next day, and the price of a meal cut virtually in half.
The Best Bite: In addition to a detailed calorie and nutrition breakdown of every menu item, the Pita Jungle also has an online Vegan Chart and Allergen Chart. Find out which dishes are completely vegan, or which ones contain wheat, dairy, nuts, and a number of other common allergens. I felt confident before I even entered the restaurant that I would be getting a healthy, nutritious meal.
In addition to the Pita Jungle, Jordan and I also enjoyed a delicious family-dinner, featuring a make-your-own salad with fat free crumbled feta, carrots, grape tomatoes, slices of English cucumber, and romaine lettuce. Her mother made a delicious vegetarian lasagna stuffed with spinach, squash, and mushrooms, and an extensive fruit and cheese platter.
Now, Jordan and I are commencing Part II of Spring Break in sunny California. More Little Bites to come as I eat my way across the West Coast, then back to Arizona and to Beantown on Sunday.
Thank you for joining me on my culinary travels,