You might think I'm some hysterical anti-fast-food nut, but I resent that implication -- I am not hysterical. In fact I just recently visited Pasha's, a new Mediterranean fast-food joint on Lincoln Road, and I liked it very much. Well, at least some of the items.
Pasha's already has locations in the Design and financial districts, but Lincoln Road is its "flagship" operation -- that means it looks prettier than the others. The lofty, two-level space is bright, cheery, modern, and blue. Food theorists will tell you that you should never, ever, adorn your restaurant in cool colors -- that's why McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and every other food chain in America goes with the warmer reds and yellows, which are more apt to subconsciously stimulate appetite. I must admit I didn't feel any less hungry at Pasha's.
The menu here features street foods from "the Levant," which would be those countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean. With more than two dozen meatless dishes, they could call the cuisine "fast food for vegetarians." The best of the starter options ("mezze") would be "adje," two discs of bright green, zestily flavored zucchini pancakes. Less successful was a mediocre version of "baba ghanoush" and an awful rendition of "hoummus" (these are their spellings, not mine) -- tasted like pasty lemon spread.
I wasn't thrilled with the kebabs either -- many of the meats, whether it be filet mignon or chicken, were overcooked. On the other hand (or, in this case, in the other hand), gyros, both chicken and the more traditional lamb and beef, were excellent, and come with choice of tatziki (yogurt/cucumber), aioli, or harissa (spicy tomato). The falafel was tasty as well, rolled in Pasha's pita bread, which is closer in spirit to a tortilla.
The single best item here, pide, is a soft, thin-crusted, individual-size pizza baked to order in the stone oven at the back of Pasha's open kitchen. Whenever I'm in Istanbul, which, granted, isn't very often, I make a point of visiting my favorite pide parlor, and Pasha's two versions (one with mild cheeses, one with sharper, aged cheeses) fall short of the real deal only in the tomatoes -- Turkey grows some of the world's best. You won't find a better snack on Lincoln Road for $4.75; you won't find a fresher snack at any price. The smaller lahmajin, featuring a folded, crustier crust with savory ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers, was likewise gratifying.
For $3 extra, just about any item on the menu can be turned into a "meal" with the addition of your choice of salad -- and you probably will want to add a salad, whether it be the cracked wheat "tabbouleh" or "fasolia," a sprightly mix of garbanzo, kidney, and cannellini beans dressed in vinaigrette. We also tried choban, which is tomatoes, cucumbers, and scallions with feta cheese and olives, though it was overmarinated -- this is a salad that must be made daily.
One of the more interesting house specials is yani, a beef and white bean stew uniquely seasoned with Mediterranean herbs and spices. Desserts are intriguing too, especially nido, a bowl of shredded phyllo wheat held together with a creamy ricotta cheese base boasting hints of almond and citrus.
Pasha's prices are low, portions small, and food fresh. The counter crew is smiley and accommodating. The vibe is positive. If you don't like your kids enough to cook fresh food for them at home, the least you can do is take them to Pasha's for a fast snack that has some nutritional value. If, however, you insist on letting them learn how to eat poorly, no need to spend money going to a museum -- just let them stay home and watch Saturday-morning television.