As a rule I avoid any restaurant which has an appellation that ends with the word palace or hut: The former are never palatial, the latter usually just cramped snack-food places with graceless décor. Rather than shun the Original Pita Hut, though, I seek it out on Arthur Godfrey's unofficial Yid Row, the block with Shemtov's Pizza, Adam's Ribs, and Kosher World. The Pita Hut space, except for original oil paintings on the walls, does possess a certain fast-food austerity, but with more than 50 seats, it really is too big to be called a hut. I enjoy the ambiance, mostly because of the clientele, which is radically different from what's usually found on the Beach. But if it isn't to your liking, everything on the menu is available for take-out. What's in the Pita, after all, is more important than what's in the Hut.
What's in the pita is a variety of fillings, though most people order either the flawlessly seasoned falafels (secret recipe for success: They're fried in clean oil; $4.50), or the shawarma -- not that compressed stuff that looks like an inverted cone of overcooked meat loaf, but real slices of lamb and turkey piled atop each other on a rotating spit ($5.50). Take my advice: Pay the extra dollar and substitute a large, fluffy laffa bread for the pita; it's chewier, tastier, contains more food, and is far less likely to sprout a leak of tahini on that hip new T-shirt you're wearing.
Top seeds among the numerous freshly prepared salads and spreads are a creamy and charflavored baba ghannouj, and hummus, which has a consummate consistency that's neither too wet from excessive oil nor dry and pasty like that the stuff sold in plastic containers at the supermarket. The Middle East Combo ($7.95) includes this duo that nobody in Miami makes better, along with tabbouleh, tahini, and a mildly spicy Turkish salad of diced tomatoes, onion, celery, peppers, and parsley. Pita comes on the side, though the amiable counter- and waitstaff will supply laffa upon request.
Original Pita Hut
534 41st St, Miami Beach; 305-531-6090.
Open Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Saturday one hour after Shabbat (sundown) till 1:00 a.m.
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Two other specialties of note: imported Israeli pickles ($2.50) cured in salt, not vinegar, accompanied with olives and hot peppers; and the Lebanese ful medames, warm fava beans, tahini, a piquant red sauce, and chopped hard-boiled egg served over hummus ($5.75). If you're going to go the distance and have a full dinner, baklava is the only commendable dessert. Like this review, it's short and sweet.