Culinary excellence does not necessarily come with a marketing plan, or a vibrant online presence, or a beautifully crafted dining room. Sometimes you find great food in unexpected places — in a strip mall, or next to a pawn shop, or stuffed into the cozy, hut-like confines of the former Franklin Freeze ice cream shop.
That last example is the story of Pita King, an unpretentious little Middle Eastern restaurant that one of our readers told us to visit for its kofta and (most particularly) its maybe-best-in-the-city baklava.
Based on our fairly extensive ongoing survey of local baklava, the reader is correct: Pita King’s baklava might be the best around. The baklava at Filfillah and Gyropolis is neck-and-neck, and some of that comes down to personal preferences. Where some first-rate baklava is fairly light and elegant, Pita King’s is dense, richly nutty in a pistachios-and-walnuts kind of way, warmly spiced, and utterly indulgent. For $4 a box, it’s a steal, as it’s surely some of the tastiest pastry in the state.
So maybe the baklava is the headline, but the truth is that everything we tried at Pita King ranged from good to great. We’ve had a lot of miserable falafel around here — sandy, gritty, overcooked, stuffed into stale pitas with nothing beyond a fatty sauce and old lettuce to keep it company — and Pita King’s Falafel Sandwich ($6) has none of those problems. The balance between pita, falafel, lettuce, and tomatoes is just right. The falafel is light and crunchy, and while thoroughly fried, it’s not greasy or charred.
We had some stellar Grilled Kofta the last time we were at Young Joni, and it’s no small thing to say that the stuff at Pita King ($6) gives it a run for its money. The meat was tender, mellow, deeply spiced, properly seasoned, and lamb-y without being too earthy or funky.
We dug the grape leaves (Dolmades, $4), which — in contrast to many that we’ve had on Central Avenue and elsewhere — were remarkably fresh and pliable, with an incredibly bright, lemony acid kick that made them the perfect complement to the heavier dishes on the menu.
Also quite good was the Chicken Schwarma Sandwich ($6), which featured thin slices of mild pickles and small, tender French fries along with cinnamon-warmed bits of tender chicken in a pita. Like everything else at Pita King, the right balance of pita to vegetables to protein meant that this sandwich tasted light and delicious, not greasy or overbearing.
Pita King’s interior is small — just a counter, a cramped kitchen, and a few little tables crammed together. But its spirit is large, and the food is delicious, and that’s ultimately what matters.
Middle Eastern in Seward, Minneapolis
2328 E Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406
Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
BAR: Beer and wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-$9
NOISE LEVEL: Fairly quiet, Middle Eastern music
PARKING: Small lot, some street parking