The Ultimate Greek Street Food: the Souvlaki Sandwich

Dear Souvlaki Sandwich,

We’ve only just met, but thank you for always being there for my husband and I on our recent trip to Greece. Efharisto! (That’s Greek, for “thank you.”)

You hung out on pretty much every street corner in Greece, as ubiquitous as fast food chains in America. I soon learned that the souvlaki pita sandwich is to Greece what the fast food hamburger is to America.

At first, you confused me. I was expecting you to be filled with lamb — not pork or chicken (or a combo of the two).

You see, I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, where the sight of a rotating skewer of meat almost always meant a lamb Gyro. So I expected you to be filled with lamb as well.

But I came to to learn that my Americanized version of Greek food didn’t equate with the street food reality in Athens or on the Greek Islands. (And defining the difference between souvlaki and gyro meat can turn into quite a heated debate, as evidenced by this TripAdvisor thread.)

You also taught me that the idea of french fries as a “side” is a silly formality. You always contained fries as a filling. You were also always generously stuffed with tomato, lettuce, onion — and topped with tasty tzatziki sauce. You were usually wrapped up in a delightfully toasted pillowy wrapping of pita bread.

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You saved my husband and I from “hangriness” many times (hunger-induced anger, often brought on by forgetting to eat during hours of walking around sightseeing ancient ruins and museums).

You are versatile. My husband and I sometimes shared you. Other times we greedily wanted you to ourselves. At various times you served as our mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, late-afternoon snack, dinner, and late-night snack (true story). Sometimes you were there for us more than once a day.

We enjoyed you on benches along busy tourist thoroughfares in Athens, at outdoor tables in Mykonos as we watched throngs of cruise ship passengers walk by, and relaxing on our hotel balcony overlooking the water at night in Santorini. But most often, we liked to grab you on the go — eating as we walked to our next tourist destination.

You also prevented us from breaking the bank on our two-week vacation, since you almost always cost between 2 and 3 euros. In Europe, a meal under $5 US is a real win! (You can imagine my shock upon returning to the United States and  seeing a souvlaki platter listed on one upscale Greek restaurant menu at $18.)

After enjoying a formal Italian dinner on our wedding anniversary on our last night in Greece, my husband begged to have just one more souvlaki sandwich as a late-night snack. I approved.

I intend to return to Greece again some day, and I look forward to seeing you again.

Here are a few spots where my husband and I enjoyed souvlaki pita sandwiches on our trip. There were many more, but in our hungry rush we didn’t always write down their names.

Bairaktaris, Monastiraki, Athens

Bairaktaris is a well-known Athens restaurant near many tourist sites that opened in 1879. It offers cheap souvlaki-to-go at a lower price than if you sit down inside. The souvlaki spit is situated just outside the restaurant. We grabbed our souvlaki to go, and devoured it while sitting on a nearby ledge. (Andrew Zimmern declared Bairaktaris the best gyro and souvlaki spot in Athens.)

Lucky’s Souvlakis, Fira, Santorini

Lucky’s Souvlakis feels like the hybrid of a hole-in-the-wall bar and a souvlaki stand. The staff are friendly and will encourage you to come in. Sit right up at the bar, drink a beer, and get a close-up view of the pork or other meat being carved right off the spit.

Obelix, Fira, Santorini

Obelix is a souvlaki stand situated amidst many busy shops. There is an outdoor bar and several tables with standing room only. We grabbed souvlaki a few times here when we were on the go — and either kept walking or stood at the tables.

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Jimmy’s, Mykonos Town, Mykonos

Jimmy’s is a nice quiet spot on a side street to grab a gyro and a beer. There are a few outdoor tables with stools that offer the perfect opportunity to watch the tourist crowds pass by. You will feel much more relaxed than they look. Some online reviewers complain that the sandwiches are too expensive. But in our experience, most things in Mykonos seemed overpriced compared to the other places in Greece that we visited.

 

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