Pita Pockets: a delightful local restaurant with flavorful falafel
Youssef smooths out the pita bread on the countertop. His hands move fast—dashes of lettuce and tomato, and a dribble of tzatziki, a yogurt-based sauce.
He swivels around to lift a batch of falafels, still sizzling with oil, from the fryer in the back corner. He drops one onto a paper plate, and applies a generous scoop of tahini. “To keep you busy while you wait,” says Youssef, handing the plate to me with a broad smile. He then immediately returns to assembling my order.
Youssef works at Pita Pockets, a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern eatery on 103 North Pleasant St. The restaurant enjoys a steady stream of customers ranging from college students to local residents. Pita Pockets is owned by Youssef’s family. The family-run operation is staffed by Youssef’s sister, Fibi, and their parents, Abboud and Vahla.
The restaurant has a casual vibe. The room is well-lit with sparse décor. Food is made to order at a counter, and can be taken out or eaten at one of the seven tables in the room.
Offerings include falafel, fried balls made from ground chickpeas; kabobs, marinated chicken tenders; and gyros, strips of seasoned beef. These can be served as pocket-style “wraps” or as plate dinners served over pita bread. Many items on the menu, such as the popular falafel pockets, are vegan.
Ciaran Young frequents the restaurant, and his item of choice is the Turbo Pocket. “It’s got gyros, chicken, and falafel,” he said. “I also like the falafel pocket. At around five dollars, it’s the best deal for the money.” The falafel pocket is $6 on the menu.
Pita Pockets opened in Amherst two years ago. “It was a nice college area,” said Fibi. “There were no authentic Syrian falafels [in the area] before us.”
Social studies teacher Sam Camera agrees. “I had moved to San Francisco and Cleveland, and both had great falafels. But not [Amherst],” she said.
The restaurant prides itself on making everything from scratch. According to Fibi, most store-bought falafels are frozen and shipped in from Egypt and the surrounding region. “Here, we make it fresh,” she said.
“My favorite thing about Pita Pockets is the people who work there,” said Young. “Youssef often gives people free falafel while they wait.” Ms. Camera also noted the staff’s friendliness.
“We like to make our customers happy. Some people even come just to chat,” said Fibi. She said that visitors come from as far as Springfield.
Fibi’s family is originally from Syria. Though Christians themselves, they hail from a community where different religions coexist. “We have to respect other religions,” she said.
The restaurant is one of the few locations in downtown Amherst serving Halal food. “Pita Pockets was in Amherst before the [New York Halal Food] cart,” said Ms. Camera, referring to the cart in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church.
Pita Pockets is especially important to Ms. Camera, who is the organizer of the annual exchange program between ARHS and Pakistani teachers. In years where Amherst has hosted, the town has welcomed Pakistani teachers and undergraduate students, as well some Iraqi undergraduates. According to Ms. Camera, the exchange can bring as many as 100 Muslims into town.
Ms. Camera is thankful for Pita Pockets, which she said was “an answer when Casablanca burnt down—a terrible, terrible loss.” Casablanca was a Halal market in Hadley that was destroyed in a fire along with 13 businesses last October.
Pita Pockets is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dishes range in price from $5 to $9.
On May 15, the restaurant opened a second location on 193 Main St. in Northampton. The Northampton store shares the same name but is operated by relatives of Fibi’s family. Menu items and pricing slightly differ.
An earlier version of the article made an incorrect reference to the owner of the restaurant. The article has since been revised.