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Pretty persuasion

Pita Bella makes a fine case for eating Mediterranean, whether you've tabled a New Year's resolution or not



It's that time of year when every TV commercial reminds you, "Time to get healthy!" NBC even times its Biggest Loser season premiere for January. Food-wise, we're constantly told what we have to give up, and we're rarely shown what we gain.

Fiber shakes, cereals and rice cakes with peanut butter just don't do it for me. I need flavor, and Mediterranean food is packed with it: grilled meats, hearty grains, sweet vegetables, olive oil, garlic. Rami Jdour and his wife Manal opened their north-side Pita Bella in early November, and their Greek, Turkish, Moroccan, Georgian and Yemeni dishes deliver — whether you sit down on-site or walk out with a quick to-go order.

Located in the King Soopers-anchored shopping center near Woodmen Road and Union Boulevard, the booth- and table-filled restaurant is bright and warm, like its owner. Jdour, originally from Jordan, greets each customer with a quick smile and seems to relish taking the mystery out of the menu. Divided into salads, pitas, platters and chef's specials ranging in price from $2.99 to $9.99 (including a fountain drink), it mixes and matches sides and main courses.

Unlike the usual white version, Pita Bella's fluffy couscous, seasoned with Moroccan spices and tomato, has a slightly pinkish tone; everyone in my family loved it, especially topped with juicy grilled chicken.

The kafta, a chopped steak seasoned with Jdour's own regional spice mix, paired well with a delicious side of rice and lentil, a great source of fiber and protein (since we're talking health).

The delicious, tender beef shawarma — marinated, griddle-seared, then minced — can be served over couscous or with a variety of fresh toppings like spinach, onion and tzatziki (Greek herbed yogurt).

For those looking for the more pedestrian: Garden, Caesar and Greek salads are available, as are tuna, chicken, roast beef and turkey pita sandwiches. Or, staying in the Mediterranean, you can check out Pita Bella's tabouleh, in which small bulgar grains carry a zesty combination of parsley, mint, tomato, lemon and onion. Offering a cooling flavor, this herbaceous and grainy salad is a perfect palate cleanser.

Pita Bella's sides are true standouts. In the falafel (which you can also get in a pita or featured in a platter), a blast of curry, cumin and herbs leaves a slight and pleasant heat in the back of your throat. The hummus, served with warm pita bread, is thick, rich and garlicky. And the sweet, almost creamy baba-ghanoush — in which roasted eggplant is peeled and mashed with tahini, garlic and lemon — sings with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of cumin.

Though the savory courses earn a nutritionist's nod, Mediterranean cuisine, of course, knows how to party, and Pita Bella's homemade baklava (99 cents) will satisfy those seeking a sticky, sweet treat.

Just last week, the Jdours opened a second Pita Bella location on Star Ranch Road on the south side. Perhaps they know that long after New Year's resolutions fade, people will keep coming back to Pita Bella; after all, they'll not only eat healthy, they'll actually eat well.

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