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The Pita Principle

The care that Phoenicia lavishes on the main courses also extends to its desserts, which stretch far beyond the baklava in that display case. Everything we tried--chocolate eclairs, mousse-filled pastry cylinders, pistachio-laden cakes, fresh-fruit tarts and that sticky-sweet baklava, all ranging in price from $3 to $5--was amazing. So were Awada's smoothies, which went so well with the kitchen's spicier dishes that we didn't lament the lack of alcoholic beverages.

Although no true Middle Eastern spot serves alcohol, its absence has obviously never hurt Jerusalem, even though the restaurant has been located smack-dab in college-kid central, close to the University of Denver, for over twenty years. In fact, Jerusalem is so popular that owner Said Wahdan--who's from the city his restaurant is named after--plans an expansion into a house he owns behind the modest restaurant space on East Evans Avenue. But two years after his zoning was approved, Said's project has yet to get under way (for reasons he declines to share). "I know we've got to get in there," he says, "but I just don't know when it will be."

Until he does, give thanks for the two decks and tables on the sidewalk outside Jerusalem--a dining option to the folding chairs and old cafeteria tables inside. Otherwise, take-out is the way to go, because the service is catch-as-catch-can and there doesn't seem to be any system in place for moving things along; it's frustrating to spend more than an hour on a meal that takes just minutes to prepare. And while you wait, you're subjected to constant shuffling, scootching and excuse-meing from crowds of faithful customers who just keep coming. They come 24 hours a day on weekends and until 4 a.m. on weekdays--hours that are a true boon to late-night partyers and students in need of sustenance.

And what sustenance it is. Jerusalem's food is incredibly cheap--and incredibly delicious. Where else can you get a platter filled to the rim and mounded four inches high with food--for under eight bucks? That's the super dish ($7.95), which comes loaded with shish kebab, kifta kebab, chicken kebab and gyros, along with a good helping of hummus and baba ghanouj, two falafel, a smattering of tabouleh, fetoush and one dolma, with saffron-colored rice beneath it all and pitas on the side. My server tsk-tsked when I added an appetizer portion of hummus ($2.95) to my super dish order, but I just couldn't get enough of Jerusalem's take--the best in town, as far as I'm concerned. Sleek and lightly slicked with oil, this hummus was dry enough that its texture didn't seem unsettlingly smooshy; the contents were so perfectly mixed that no single ingredient stood out.

On another nocturnal visit, I went for other appetizers: fried kibbeh ($2.25), a mix of ground filet, cracked wheat (bulghur), fried onions and pine nuts; and the fouel ($4.75), a plate of fava beans coated with lemon juice and olive oil that have been punched up with garlic. The gyros sandwich ($3.50) was stuffed with well-seasoned, moist beef filet cooked just right on the rotisserie; onions, parsley and sumac rounded out the sandwich, which came on pita with a side of cucumber-onion-tomato salad.

I've never found any surprise menu items at Jerusalem--but I've never been disappointed by what I've ordered off that menu, either. Although Middle Eastern cuisine may not offer many options, who needs them when the standards are this satisfying?

Phoenicia Grill, 727 Colorado Boulevard, 303-534-3434. Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-9 p.m. Sunday.

Jerusalem, 1890 East Evans Avenue, 303-777-8828. Hours: 9 a.m.-4 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 24 hours Friday-Saturday.

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