Every college student has one favorite restaurant where they go study in peace or hang out with friends -- an ultra hip, ultra cheap joint with cool art on the walls and a staff that doesn't mind you sitting and reading a book for hours. For ASU students of the past decade, noshing nirvana was usually found at Pita Jungle on Apache Blvd., where you can get a healthy schwarma pita or a plateful of garlicky hummus with chicken for the price of a greasy "not-so-happy" meal from Burger Thing or Taco Hell.
Thankfully, not much has changed since PJ branched out, adding 7 locations including one on
inside the peaked-roof building that once housed every manner of Asian food. The art there is not what you'd expect from a college joint, especially one with a granola crunchy, vegan friendly rep. No tye-dyed batik prints. No tacky blacklight posters from the nearbyShirts n' Things
. (Although PJ's clear preference for primary colors and rainbow prints does kinda give off a hippie "happy rainbow sunshine day" vibe that makes you want to pile in a baby blue VW van and partake from the store's, er, tobacco smoking paraphernalia.)
Case in point:
An eye-searing burst of shapes that hovers somewhere between 20th century geometric abstraction and IKEA print.
This little number, on the wall next to the entrance, features a swirling spiral of colors that can best be described as "an eyeball, as seen during a very cool acid trip." Or possibly a mountain as captured by some modernist version of Bob Ross, minus the happy little trees.
Speaking of trees, you'd think with a name like Pita Jungle, they'd have some tropical plants, no?? Instead, we get cactuses. Or cacti, if you prefer. Ugh. Usually we're pretty critical of art featuring the prickly plants, but the coolest, quirkiest, must-have piece of art in this PJ is a wall mirror framed by cactus skeletons. It's got a great organic quality that speaks to our desert heritage without screaming, "Get yer Scottsdale kitsch here!"
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The art at Mesa's Pita Jungle may or may not tickle your fancy, but much of it changes out so often that there's bound to be something you like. The one thing, other than the ass-kicking cactus mirror, that's a sure bet is the food. The prices have gone up by a couple of bucks since our good 'ol ASU days a few years back, but for $9 an entree (less for some sandwiches; more for dinner plates) you get an amazingly delicious, healthful meal of anything from Caribbean fruit salad to a Mediterranean combo platter with hummus, baba ganoosh, stuffed grape leaves and felafel.
Portions are so huge that one plate can easily yield three meals. Good thing leftovers fit in your pint-sized dorm fridge!