Meet Arayes, the Crispy Meat-Stuffed Pitas Having a Moment Right Now

Beloved across the Middle East for their juicy filling and crunchy exterior, these grilled meat sandwiches are ready for their closeup in the U.S.


By Flora Tsapovsky

Published on April 9, 2024

The continued popularity of stuffing ground beef into bread should surprise no one—hamburgers have captivated Americans for over a century. From an old-school McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese to upgraded versions topped with truffles and Gruyere, Stateside menus feature the sandwich almost compulsorily. Yet, there’s always room for improvement, in this case with the arrival of arayes, a food item with roots spanning the Middle East that’s finding its way onto menus around the country, from San Francisco to Miami to Brooklyn. 

Much like its bun-heavy American brethren, arayes are an eat-with-your-hands treat, often served at backyard barbecues or other low-key gatherings. But unlike a burger, the meat is cooked directly inside the bread, in this case ditching buns for pita. The raw meat is combined with spices, herbs, and vegetables, stuffed into the pita, then grilled (or baked). They’re often served halved, or quartered, for easier handling—and dipping into flavorful condiments like toum or schug. Depending on the maker, they vary in thickness, from a thin, quesadilla-like width to a super thick, full-on burger patty size encased in pita.

Arayes at Dalida (Photo: Isabel Baer)

As simple as it sounds, this dish requires a bit of finesse. “The success is when you get it consistently crispy on the outside, and juicy on the inside—you're capturing all the juices in the bread,” says Sayat Ozyilmaz, chef and co-owner of Dalida, one of San Francisco’s most lauded openings of 2023. After Ozyilmaz first encountered arayes in London at chef Asaf Granit’s Palomar, he could see the allure. For one, the dish lends itself to communal dining, whether at home or across the table at a fine-dining establishment. “Arayes are sharable, while a burger loses its aesthetic when you cut it in half,” Ozyilmaz says. Another plus? The meat is mixed with onions and bell peppers and generously spiced with cumin and coriander. “The spices lightly cure the meat, so you have a cool texture from the meat and a completely different texture from the bread,” says Ozyilmaz.

The parallel to burgers is unavoidable, of course, but chefs agree that these juicy morsels are a different beast altogether; according to chef Or Amsalam from LA’s Lodge Bread, he prefers arayes because of the magic that happens when bread and meat crisp side by side. Amsalam, who has Israeli roots and frequently makes arayes on the grill with friends, ran it as a special at one of Lodge Bread’s locations, featuring wagyu beef and adding garlic confit, bone marrow, and caramelized onions to the mix. “It made for a very rich, sweet, herby arayes,” he says. “I don’t think I had one customer who didn’t like it.”

Arayes at Motek (Photo: Courtesy Motek)

They’re also a hit in Brooklyn at K’Far, the new Michael Solomonov-led restaurant, served at brunch alongside pita French toast and shakshuka. The restaurant itself is inspired by Solomonov’s hometown of K’Far Saba in Israel. “We thought, what could give us a little more identity while biting into meat with some bread?” says the restaurant’s chef de cuisine Sam Levenfeld. Using the right beef blend is key, according to Levenfeld, since the melting fat helps crisp up the pita; too much can make it soggy. At K’Far, he fills pitas with a fatty ground brisket flavored with a mix of spices and lots of cilantro and parsley. “As soon as we put it on the menu, it was a hit,” he says. The trend continues at Motek, a Mediterranean chain with four locations in Florida. “It's a unique recipe that draws a lot of attention due to its bold flavors and textures,” says owner Charlie Levi, who grew up in Israel and used to encounter the dish at family parties.

While tahini is a go-to in the Middle East, U.S. chefs have been getting creative with condiments. Motek’s arayes are inspired by traditional Lebanese arayes and served with both tahini and harissa aioli. At Dalida, the plump pita quarters arrive slathered in XO-flavored aioli and coated with chives, for an added kick of umami and crunch. K’Far serves theirs with herby schug, tahini, and resek (finely grated and salted tomato). At Lodge Bread, the lucky diners who got a chance to catch the limited-time dish enjoyed it with tahini, fried jalapeños, grated tomato, lemon juice, and olive oil. As Amsalam puts it: “If I could eat it every day and not get a heart attack, I would.”


Photo: Murray Hall • Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

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