Phoenix Middle Eastern restaurant Pita Bistro celebrates 10 years | Phoenix New Times

How a childhood love of cooking turned into 10 years of Pita Bistro success

The Tempe-area restaurant serves flavors from the Middle East with an Arizona twist.
Tempe's Pita Bistro is getting ready to hit its 10 year anniversary.
Tempe's Pita Bistro is getting ready to hit its 10 year anniversary. Pita Bistro
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Pita Bistro, a Tempe-area Mediterranean kitchen, will hit 10 years in business in September. The restaurant was inspired by the flavors co-founder Sarmad Amanoail enjoyed as a child.

"The inspiration for our Pita Bistro menu came from when my family and I had to move out of our home country, Iraq," Amanoail says. "We had to go to the neighboring country because of the Gulf War we endured. We lived in Jordan for a little bit."

When he was in fifth grade, living in Jordan, Amanoail would stop by a small neighborhood falafel shop.

"I would go there every day and buy a sandwich," he says. "It would be my lunch after school."

Young Amanoail became a regular, and the shop owner offered him small jobs to clean up and run to the grocery store in exchange for free sandwiches.

"Then he said you could come behind and make the falafel sandwich," Amanoail continues. At that moment, an epiphany became clear and Amanoail knew, "at one point in my life, I would have my own restaurant."

Fast forward to 2024, and Pita Bistro sells hundreds of falafels a week.

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The modernly-decorated restaurant off of 48th Street by the I-10 serves custom dishes.
Mike Madriaga

Creating a future based on flavor

Amanoail co-founded the restaurant with his cousin Naseem Gulli.

"My cousin has always been my close friend since we were young," Amanoail says. "He moved from Detroit to Phoenix back then, and we opened up the restaurant.”

One thing that keeps customers coming back, the owners say, is that the mom-and-pop bistro is brisk and efficient.

"It's a two-minute process," Amanoail says. “That's starting from the line by the door, the end of the line to get your food and cash out.”

The system includes picking between delicacies from the Middle East and the Mediterranean Sea, which are then added to wraps, bowls, or salads. The modern restaurant off 48th Street serves a mix of custom orders and preset menu items "to make it easier for people eating this for the first time," Amanoail explains.

While the bistro’s crew is fast at making and fulfilling the orders, Amanoail wants "everybody to enjoy watching the process, seeing all of the ingredients in front of you.”

Think of the Subway or Chipotle food preparation business model — with a Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Arizona twist.

A popular vegetarian order is the Fiesty Falafel wrap. The pita wraps are made with a veggie, rice or lentil base and Sriracha hummus provides the feistiness. The falafel, ground chickpeas that are seasoned and flash-fried, make delectable meat alternatives and are popular street fare throughout Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Israel, Iraq and beyond. Amanoail also brought a unique Chicken Shawerma recipe to metro Phoenix.

“This is our creation,” he explains. “We use 12 different spices to marinate our chicken to give it flavor, and it takes us 24 hours to marinate.”

The team makes all of the marinades in their prep kitchen across the street, then the chicken breasts are char-grilled and served with pickles, tomato and garlic sauce.

The Kickin’ K-bob bowl starts with rice or lentils and is topped with jalapeno and cilantro hummus, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, chickpeas, parsley and a hearty chicken skewer.

"The cilantro jalapeno hummus was inspired by me living in Arizona,” Amanoail says.

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The chicken kebob has a different marination process than the chicken shawerma.
Pita Bistro Facebook

Leaning on a childhood passion

While some of the flavors take inspiration from Amanoail's current home, his love for food has foundations developed in his past. He began cooking in third grade when he and his family lived in Iraq.

"My older brother taught me how to make breakfast," he recollects. "Which would freak out my mom and dad because I had a pan and fire on the stove. But they saw how comfortable I was and how careful I was."

When his parents learned he could cook as an elementary school student "they said, 'All right, you can start making our breakfast.' And year after year, I just started experiencing with chicken and beef. My cooking urge just went up from one level to another,” he says.

Amanoail’s family relocated to Detroit in 1995.

“Here, in ninth grade, I would invite all my friends and have mostly barbecues," he says. "That’s when I got fascinated with the marination process. Throughout my four years in high school, I marinated with different stuff.”

Afterward, Amanoail attended college, majoring in finance, where he learned recipes for success outside the kitchen.

“It teaches you another level of thinking,” he says. Then, he had to choose whether to finish school or run his family’s wireless business. The latter prevailed, and he learned to manage employees, which is part of the secret sauce of Pita Bistro’s success ten years later.

These days, Pita Bistro also provides catering, creating the same delicacies for big parties. On our recent visit, Amanoail and his team were prepping and cooking for a 200-person engagement party in Paradise Valley while simultaneously taking and serving orders to their walk-in patrons.

"It's a big difference when you marinate for yourself, and you marinate for a big group and cook for yourself or a big group," Amanoail concludes. "The stakes are way higher."

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As customers move through the line, they can customize their dishes as they are made.
Pita Bistro

How Pita Bistro's menu works

For day-to-day customers, individual orders take a much more granular level. When customers place their orders — whether for a pita wrap, salad, or bowl — they must first choose a base that can consist of various hummuses (regular, chipotle and jalapeño/cilantro), mixed greens, lentils, brown rice or saffron rice.

Next, the customers choose from various toppings including veggies, crushed pita chips and feta cheese before picking a sauce option from a lineup of spicy ranch, tahini, tzatziki, garlic dip or house vinaigrette.

"At the last step of picking your protein, you see your protein getting cooked right behind where the kitchen is," Amanoail says. "You see it, you smell it."

The protein options are tofu, falafel, za'atar steak, chicken kebob, gyro and Chicken Shawerma.

"They can customize it as they go down the line because the diners are seeing their pitas or bowls being built," he says.

The allure of Amanoail’s restaurant is the visual and auditory experience and the patron-and-food-maker engagement. That, plus the outstanding flavors.

“The palate is the biggest imaginary thing you have. When you play with flavors — it’s like mixing colors, but you are tasting these colors," Amanoail says. "Experimenting with spices and marination is magic.”

Pita Bistro

4740 S. 48th St. #111
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