Later this month – Nov. 17 to be precise – the U.S. will commemorate National Baklava Day. A rich, extra sweet pastry filled with syrup or honey, baklava is one of a few defining dishes of Greek culture. Yet the cradle of democracy has a much deeper culinary tradition, one that includes everything from the cheese-heavy tiropitas and prassorizo – leeks and rice stew – to more left-of-center meats like baby goat and octopus. So, this National Baklava Day, why not go big and spend the entire day indulging in the vast and inviting Greek menu? If you’re a member of the Austin culinary scene, there are a bevy of great restaurants that will have you proclaiming, “opa!”
1. Santorini Cafe: For some passersby, Santorini Cafe is just a small, unassuming white cottage located in the heart of North Lamar. Yet it’s the interior that holds the real magic, as the restaurant belies its humble exterior with a truly expansive offering of authentic Greek cuisine. The culinary adventure begins with appetizers like spinach and cheese pie, pita and tzatziki, and dulmas, or stuffed cabbage leaves. At Santorini, the main course is usually one of the cafe’s signature gyro plates, like pasticcio – a rich medley of beef, bechamel and macaroni – or mousaka, which feature beef, potatoes and egg plant. Not only does Santorini serve baklava, but there are also Greek beignets with honey syrup and cinnamon.
2. Tinos Greek Cafe: Since 2003, Tinos Greek Cafe has served much of greater Austin, with locations in the North, South and Central part of the Texas capital. Like other Greek-style diners, Tinos takes a decidedly laid-back approach, serving huge portions and offering patrons a “make your own” lunch or dinner option. This Greek cafeteria-style has undergone a few changes recently – the Great Hills location closed in favor of a new spot at Northcross Mall – but the menu remains as fresh and authentic as ever. In addition to a huge selection of wraps and Greek salads, Tinos’ menu emphasizes those aforementioned massive platters, in which customers can enjoy chicken, gyro or steamed vegetables.
3. Athenian Bar & Grill: Technically, the Athenian Bar & Grill is located on 6th Street just west of Congress in the middle of downtown Austin. However, this restaurant, which has been up and running since the early 2000s, actually traces its roots right back to Greece, where head chef Anil Simicia and his ancestors have been cooking authentic dishes for generations. The Athenian serves up all of your Greek favorites, including saganaki – which features sauteed Greek sheep cheese – Greek-style meatballs called keftedes and sauteed spinach, also known as spanakopita. However, the real draw of the Athenian is the signature dishes. The lamb chops come broiled and served alongside steamed vegetables and lush Greek potatoes. Or, try the soulvaki beef, which is cooked with a unique blend of spices.
4. Milto’s Mediterranean Cafe: As far as Greek food in Austin is concerned, Milto’s Mediterranean Cafe is practically an institution, having first opened up shop way back in 1977. In that span of time, Milto’s – which still occupies the very same storefront on Guadalupe Street – has won several local and national awards, including a couple best-in-town awards in 2006 and 2007. And given the menu at Milto’s, it’s quite easy to see how the restaurant has been able to serve Austin successfully for nearly 40 years. The Milto’s menu features a smorgasbord of good eats, including a signature house salad, the meatball sampler, the Mama’s Choice gyro – which features beef and lamb combined – marinated Greek pata’tas and the locally renowned garlic knots.
5. Big Fat Greek Gyros: Emmanuel Papadakis moved to Austin back in 2011, choosing the Lone Star State for its love of food and wide open spaces. While his website claimed that he is a fan of good old fashioned barbecue, Papadakis immediately set to work cooking authentic Greek food for his new Texan friends. With Big Fat Greek Gyros – located in a converted food truck on Rainey Street – Papadakis has a very simple cooking philosophy: treat everyone like friends and try to make the freshest and most delicious meals possible. In addition to heaping plates of gyro meat, the good-natured chef also serves up dishes like the Pikilia Plate and the Aphrodite Pita, which features feta cheese, tzatziki, green peppers and kalamata olives. You can even hire Papadakis to cater your party or other event.