How good is Greek food? So good that my family's ethnic>"/>
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How good is Greek food? So good that my family's ethnic identity might hinge on it.
According to family legend, my great-grandfather - a Sephardic Jew - was so perturbed by the antisemitism he faced in his home country of Turkey that he refused to align with expat Turks when he immigrated to the U.S. In a sweetly retaliatory move, he entered a community of Greeks, the only ethnic group that Turks have traditionally hated more than the Jews. Being a Greek-American also meant weekly meals at Chicago's great roasted lamb and feta restaurants.
Seattle doesn't have a restaurant quite like the late Dianna's, where the owner danced with a wine glass on his head. But it has plenty of restaurants where eaters with a hankering for flaming cheese and moussaka can express their Hellenic allegiances: Our picks for the best of the lot follow. As always, the finalists are in random, arbitrary, doesn't-mean-anything order, and Erin Thompson compiled our contributors comments. Opa!
No topless sunbathing or raucous discos here, just a lineup of iconic dishes that has made the island of Mykonos the moussaka capital of the universe. Beyond that rich eggplant casserole, this grill skewers chicken and lamb for souvlaki. The kitchen fries up falafel, tucks seasoned meats into pita for gyros, and turns chickpeas into everyone's favorite Mediterranean dip, hummus. There's also a selection of Greek beer.
Geoff Peters 604
At Capitol Hill's Byzantion, you may feel like like you've stepped into a taverna somewhere in the Plaka. Brightly painted tiles stand out against the yellow walls. Frantic strumming music alternates with Mediterranean pop. The skordo is a favorite appetizer--warm goat cheese served in a cast-iron skillet with rosemary, roasted garlic, and kalamata olives, with a side of pita. A more exciting option is the saganaki--fried cheese drenched in ouzo and lit on fire. For your main course, the gyros are better than average, while the roast chicken is nearly perfect.
The First Hill Bar & Grill is not a restaurant whose Greekness is betrayed in either name or facade. But venture indoors, past the jagged rock exterior, and the place couldn't be more Grecian. Its back wall (by the bar, which is virtually hidden) is covered in a kitschy Mediterranean mural, and its menu is chockablock with ethnic faves as well as Ameri-Greek hybrids like the Gyro Burger, which features multiple strips of split lamb sausage on a perfectly toasted sesame bun. The highlight of the menu is the loukaniko. This zesty pork sausage can include a range of ingredients (citrus peel, leeks, fennel, etc.) depending on the whims of the chef.
Come December, Santorini Greek Grill owner Stavros Iannou will close shop and fly to Greece for two months to visit family and escape the cold. You'd think customers would find a new favorite lunch spot during his absence, but the moment Iannou returns, they come running back.Santorini Greek Grill is an absolute delight, a tiny cash-only eatery that serves gyros, souvlaki, and baklava made from family recipes. When in business, the street corner it's based on instantly becomes livelier, bustling with Greek folk music and Iannou's booming voice calling out orders. His customers stay put because they love the food, the service, and his playful sense of humor. Case in point: The sign next to the cash register reads "Forget Viagra, have a gyro!"
Hummus is hummus, right? Well, at Georgia's, hummus takes on mythical status. According to the menu, garbanzo beans, garlic, olive oil and spices are pulverized into a dipping delight. The exhaustive menu is full of these over-the-top embellishments. The tzatiki is a sauce with a legacy. Taramosalata offers a small taste of the sea. The poetic descriptions start with breakfast--a lineup of omelets, pancakes, French toast and such--onto the dinner hour when stuffed grape leaves, seafood platters and souvlaki show up. On the deli side, there's a broad selection of imported meats, cheeses and specialty foods, as well as hard-to-find Greek beer including Aris, Athenian, Marathon and Keo.
The Lagos family has been serving simple, traditional Greek diner food to starving students and cantankerous professors since 1974, and the decor, service, and quality virtually never vary. Breakfast is served at the Continental all day and always comes with a warm smile, a huge heaping of oregano-flecked Greek fries, and the knowledge that whichever way you ordered your eggs, the veteran line cooks in back know the precise margins between easy, medium, and hard. Dinner fare is equally reliable, with classic offerings like souvlaki and gyros taken to exceptional levels with house-made pita and tzatziki.
4. Taverna Mazi
There's no saganaki at Taverna Mazi, a Greek bistro with real culinary ambitions, but there's plenty of opa! attitude at this warm neighborhood spot. The cocktail list includes a Greek margarita, and the menu's brimming with booze-infused plates. The standout entrée at Mazí is a homespun braised lamb shank, sunk in a thicket of cinnamon-scented orzo and roasted tomatoes. The lamb would probably fall off the bone if a gentle gust of wind blew through the dining room; the meat is deeply flavored and the pasta perfectly cooked.
This little traditional Greek taverna offers a tour of dishes you won't see in most Greek restaurants: baked kalamata olives, smoked herring and sausage, keftedes meatballs, white bean and mint salad, and kota kleftiko, a marinated and stuffed chicken breast. The best way to order here is to make a meal out of the apps, tapas style. The leisurely pace of service allows for you and your friends to relax and drink lots of little cups of red wine.
The food at Demetra and Spiros Rouvas' tiny, peach-colored restaurant is well suited for a night out with the family: It's brawny and likable, piling big, simple flavors on top of each other. If you bring a big enough group, maybe you'll start your meal with an appetizer combo: eggplant salad, skordalia (potato-garlic spread), calamari, and taramosalata (smoked carp roe whipped with oil and lemon) that you scoop up with stacks of warm, soft pita. Maybe you finish it with a cube of nutty, sticky baklava. But you don't need to, because the sandwiches and platters of souvlaki, gyros, and grilled vegetables are affordable and gigantic.
There are as many ways to make a meal at Plaka Estiatorio as there are Greek gods. There are entrées, such as the rack of lamb with lemon potatoes, with portions large enough to slake even the most Herculean appetite, and sampler platters heaped as high as Mt. Olympus with mouthwatering meat and seafood. But for those seeking a truly transcendent Mediterranean experience, mezedes, or small plates, are the preferred method of feasting. Start with an order of pita bread and a trio of dips (don't miss the roasted-eggplant purée with tomatoes and onions) while perusing the menu. Then move on to grilled lamb cutlets with quince glaze, grilled prawns, braised octopus, and perhaps a side order of those divine lemon potatoes. Finish with a chunky salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, figs, capers, olives, roasted red peppers, feta, and thinly sliced onions, and wash it all down with a glass of wine from the restaurant's cellar, stocked so meticulously it would make Dionysus blush. The quality of the food here, unlike all those ancient Greek deities, is not a myth.