Soy, Happy New Year Tofu

Pita Jungle, 1250 East Apache, Tempe, 804-0234. Hours: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

Turn out the lights, the party's over.
The mistletoe, the get-togethers, the holiday dinners, the gifts, the bowl games, the New Year's Eve celebrations are all behind us. It's the morning after the night before, and who can blame us for not wanting to wake up and face reality?

There's nothing terribly festive about repacking the Christmas lights, returning to work and paying off the credit-card bills. Even worse, this week we've got to deal with the resolutions that we impulsively made after chugging one too many eggnogs.

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Pita Jungle

1250 E. Apache Blvd.
Tempe, AZ 85281

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Tempe

Now, no one's going to feel guilty about failing to follow up on I-didn't-really-mean-it promises to "learn to play the piano," "organize my time more effectively," or the ever-popular "be a better person." Let's get real: Your chances of turning into Van Cliburn, Martha Stewart or Mother Teresa are about as good as your chances of bobsledding down Squaw Peak.

However, some folks may feel a lingering moral twinge over abandoning their resolution to watch what they eat, even before they've given it a try. Blame our Puritan heritage. The weakest-willed gluttons, it tells us, ought to have the discipline to pull their snouts out of the trough, cut back on fried foods and snack on fruit for at least a few days, or long enough to soothe their stricken consciences.

How far do you want to take your healthful-eating resolutions? At Pita Jungle, you can ease your way gently into the world of good-for-you dining. Start slowly with pizza, falafel and nachos. Then, once you're comfortable, gradually work your way to tempeh burgers, sprout-laden veggie pitas and tofu with brown rice. At Desert Greens Cafe, on the other hand, there are no compromises, no halfway menu stops on the road to well-being. Here you'll find the turban-and-sandals crowd, macrobiotic, vegan true believers.

They say you are what you eat. Well, in that case, I'm about as pure as the driven slush. My body has been ransacked more often than the Temple of Karnak. It wasn't until recently that I learned the four principal food groups weren't pizza, French fries, pecan pie and mayonnaise. But after several visits to Pita Jungle, I'm ready to concede that there may be something more to this healthful-eating business than twigs and berries.

At prime eating hours, this delightful place is packed with a young crowd, its members intent on doing something good for their bodies and souls. Checking out the message printed on the napkins puts their consciences immediately at ease. "By using this recycled, bleach-free napkin," it reads, "Pita Jungle is saving per year: 51 trees, 21,000 gallons of water, 9 cubic yards of landfill space, 12,300 kilowatts of energy and 180 pounds of air pollutants." Wow! Saving the planet, and it keeps your face clean, too!

Set in a strip-mall storefront overlooking a parking lot, Pita Jungle is sparely decorated. There's colorful artwork for sale, a reading rack and signed celebrity photos featuring celebrities that no one over the age of 22 will recognize.

In general, the food here conforms to Seftel's Law of Good Eating, which posits that the tastiness of a dish is inversely proportional to its nutritional density. This theoretical insight permits us to understand why, for example, diners consistently prefer glazed doughnuts to wheat germ in a blind taste test.

It also explains why I like Pita Jungle's lahvosh salmon wrap so much. It's a marvelous combination of smoked salmon rolled with low-fat cream cheese, red onion, tomato and an extravagant amount of capers. At $6.25, it's just about the most expensive item here, but no one is likely to feel shortchanged.

I'm equally impressed by the pesto pizza: mozzarella, feta, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach and fresh basil loaded atop pita bread. It's a good choice for a group to share as a munchie, as long as everyone in the party can be counted on to stick to the correct allotment. The Mediterranean Platter is also well-suited for sharing. It's a heaping pile of hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, yogurt dip, green beans in tomato sauce and two very spicy falafel balls.

If you've come with an appetite, chicken shawarma is a first-rate option. It features generous hunks of rotisserie-grilled white meat teamed with tomatoes and onions, all rolled in thick pita bread that's been coated with a zippy garlic sauce. You'll need both hands to heft this filling sandwich.

The more explicitly health-conscious menu items tend to be less gastronomically appealing. "What's better, the veggie burger or the tempeh (soybean patty) burger?" I asked the proprietor. "Tempeh is better for you, but the veggie burger tastes better," he quickly responded. If that's the case, I can only wonder what the tempeh burger tastes like, since the out-of-the-box veggie burger, fashioned from ground veggies and breadcrumbs, had almost nothing going for it. Another pseudoburger, a grilled portabella mushroom model, also couldn't make me forget the real thing, no matter how many fixings I loaded onto it. The fungus is also way too small, barely covering half the bun space.

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