I'm waiting my turn in the assembly line-style queue at Sunrise Pita (2680 N. University Dr., Sunrise, 954-748-0090) when the line cook asks the woman in front of me what she'd like on her shawarma lafa. Her lips purse as she contemplates the options — tomato and cucumber salad, roasted eggplant, spiced onions, hummus, tahini sauce, spicy chili paste, and shredded lettuce.
Finally she decides: "Could I have tuna salad, please?"
Little synapses explode in the line cook's head. Sunrise Pita is a kosher restaurant. Mixing the freshly shaved turkey shawarma with fish is technically kosher, but it still violates kashrut (Jewish dietary laws). The chef calmly explains why he can't mix the two.
"Oh," she says, with a hint of naiveté, "I guess I'll have lettuce."
That's probably not a common scenario at Sunrise Pita. Its take on Middle Eastern street food comes with an Israeli perspective. Also, the owners are Orthodox Jews, and most of its customers follow the same age-old doctrines: No mixing meat with dairy. Ditto with fish. Please hold the pork. Once you're past that, the rest is gravy.
Much of the fare at Sunrise Pita is vegetarian, like the boldly flavored salads, hand-made each day, or the exquisite, crisp falafels made with mashed chickpeas and spices, but the meat is still plentiful. Turkey shawarma (similar to the lamb meat in Greek gyros) spins on a rotisserie behind the counter and is sheared off in thin strips with an electric knife. Ask for thinly sliced chicken breast flavored with smoked paprika or thick wedges of buttery, beef shish kebab and the cooks grill to order with just the right amount of flavorful char.
Your meal operates with surprising efficiency: Just choose one protein, one bread (fresh pita bread is sliced open with a box cutter and stuffed; warm, pillowy lafa is rolled up like a burrito; $5.99 to $8.99), and any of the half-dozen fillings. I like mine with a bit of everything: the mouth-soothing breeze of the Israeli cucumber salad, the tangy crunch from pickled cabbage, and savory waves of caramelized eggplant flesh and fragrant coriander. Then there's the onion and tomato salad, spicy-sweet in that beautiful way that onion chutney is; the heat of the chili paste; cooling, parsley-flecked tahini sauce; plus the creamiest hummus you're likely to taste outside Tel Aviv. Single side orders of falafel (35 cents each) come pressed between a little blanket of pita and a smear of that decadent hummus, and they're pure bliss — a testament to the versatility of a single, ordinary bean.
All that, jammed into a single pita or wrap, makes for messy fare. That's part of the glory of it, but you may like a more orderly platter ($8.99 and up). Tack on creamy, dill-infused grape leaves (55 cents each) and a dessert of honey- and clove-scented baklava ($1.50) if you dare. Just hold the tuna — or, at least, as the Offspring once said, keep 'em separated.
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