Ziba Ljucevic, former accountant and owner of the downtown food cart Ziba's Pitas, which opened this October, never thought she'd ply pitas for a living. But when she moved to Portland with her family five years ago from Bosnia, the language barrier just wouldn't budge. So Ziba compromised: "Here, I speak to people with pita. You know, I like—it's good."
Located in the mini downtown cart row, half-framing a parking lot between the Central Library and Powell's City of Books, Ziba's Pitas is among 14 globetrotting food carts.
While Bosnia is technically in Eastern Europe, it's also on the cusp of the Middle East, so the cuisine often straddles both regions—heavy cream and plain yogurt, salty fresh cheeses, spiced meats and the pervasive pita.
By the way, leave all pita preconceptions at the wayside from here on out.
Ziba arrives at work at 5 am every day in order to prepare the thinly rolled, supple pita dough. Her favorite is the cheese pita ($4.75 À la carte, $5.50 full plate with the eggplant-pepper relish ajvar and sour-cream cucumber salad). "I have cheese pita every morning even though my daughter laughs and says, 'Why every day you have the same?'"
The answer seems simple enough—imagine a swirly elephant ear turned savory and stuffed with a light and silky mixture of egg, feta, sour cream and cottage cheese.
The pita fillings (spinach, vegan zucchini, cheese or beef) are carefully distributed among ribbony sections of dough, which is baked till golden and flaky. Perfect for a lunch-hour walk-and-wolf.
Another specialty at Ziba's is the cufte ($6.50), browned beef meatballs in a garlicky cream sauce served with two ustipaks—soft, golden and fried dough.
There's no wrong turn at Ziba's Pitas, but if you're feeling indecisive order a combination plate ($5 À la carte; $5.75 with sides) with halves of any two pitas. Add a half portion of cufte to that for a dollar more.
For dessert Ziba makes layered caramel wafers called oblatne ($1.50) daily. According to Ziba, this is the most difficult food to keep stocked, not because of customers, but because her kids always sneak pieces when her back is turned.
Ziba's Pitas, located on the northwest corner of Southwest 9th Avenue and Southwest Alder Street, 473-9372. 10:30 am-4:30 pm Monday-Saturday. $ Inexpensive. Cash only.