By: Jim Bamboulis
When I walk by an ethnic restaurant, I don’t look so much at the food by the window. Instead, I look more at who’s eating it. If I’m in the mood for Chinese food, I want to see Chinese people eating at the Chinese restaurant. If it’s Italian, I want to see Italians. My theory is, if I see locals loving the food, I’ll love the food. That’s when I walk into the restaurant. Otherwise, I skip it.
Same goes with Greek. People ask me all the time where I go for Greek food. And when I tell them, I get this weird, confused look. And I know why.
I don’t frequent the usuals, the ones people seem to go to all the time and I don’t eat at restaurants to be seen. Odds are, I go the ones you’ve probably walked past without a second thought. When I want great Greek food, I go to restaurants where the Chefs understand what makes an exceptional meal, a memorable experience. Restaurants that don’t take any shortcuts and don’t try to sell you something sub par at an inflated price. I hit the good ones and I believe that you should too.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reputable Greek restaurants in Toronto that fill the void, hit the spot. But I give you the five Greek restaurants that I recommend most every time. Walk by, look at the people eating inside, walk in, get a table. Because these five are consistently filled with Greeks eating delicious Greek food. Let’s go!
The Greek Grill
These guys are 2km north of the main Greek town strip. There’s parking in front but it’s still tough to snag a spot. The Greek Grill is always full and always smoking.
Pork, chicken or lamb, prepared all day. Large chunks of meat, marinated and placed on a spit, slow roasted over a charcoal pit. That pit gets turned on just in time for the morning joggers to inhale the meat being smoked. And that includes me.
I run by this place during my morning run. And let me tell you, as a jogger and meat lover, inhaling the seasoned meat during a run not only makes me want to stop and grab a bite but the aroma truly makes me feel nostalgic; like I’m in the heart of a Greek village in mid-summer. And that says it all.
“Your problems go away for the 15 minutes that it takes you to eat the grilled calamari”
-Maria, long-time customer
Of course, the menu is not just about pork, chicken and lamb. If you love seafood, the grilled calamari is a must. It’s phenomenal. Seasoned and grilled to perfection, just squeeze some lemon on top and you’re good to go.
Florida Shishkebob House
Located just off the main Greek town strip, the Florida is my kind of place. Family run, traditional, old world style. Eating here feels homely. Everyone here tries to build a personal relationship with you. This isn’t the type of restaurant where you’re treated like a number or just another casual passerby diner.
You don’t eat meat? Ok, try the lamb. The Florida has by far some of the best fresh, traditionally seasoned rotisserie lamb in Toronto. In fact, it’s the specialty here.
“My Dad picks the best meat won’t feed his customers something that he wouldn’t eat himself. He puts everything he has into the food that we do offer our customers”
– Zoi, Manager – Florida Restaurant
Go on the weekend, get the lamb, taste the quality and prepare to enter the a delicious, savoury world of rotisserie heaven.
This is the newer kid on the block. And just like Donnie Wahlberg back in the day, people seemed to have taken to it from the moment they tried it. Yes, I’m talking about Souvlike, not Donny. I’m confused too. Let’s move on.
The point is, this place is really good. And whether you’re a commuter or a lover of really great Greek food, you can’t go wrong with Souvlike. Located right across the street from Pape subway station, this place has become a favourite with both locals and Greeks who know what a great gyro or souvlaki is made of. This is about as authentic as it gets.
It’s amazing that despite the fact that this place has only been open for a very short time and it’s located off the main Greektown strip, it has struck a chord with those who can decipher an exceptional, value packed meal. Creamy tzatziki, juicy tomatoes, crisp French fries with a dash of paprika, it’s so good you’ll shake your head the entire time you’re eating….which makes eating a bit tricky.
It’s got a minimal amount of seating so if you manage to snag a spot, consider yourself lucky. It’s busy for lunch, dinner and late into the night. Eat here and you may question why you would eat elsewhere.
You’ve been warned.
There was a time when the downtown Toronto Greek restaurant scene served up your typical, expected Canadianized Greek grub where chicken skewers and lemon potatoes filled lunchtime hunger voids.
Then Volos opened and it not only changed the game but it gave people in the core a better idea of what modern Greek food looks and tastes like. Volos offers a more refined dining experience where the decor is striking and the food is spectacular. Of course, you pay a bit more for the quality but in my opinion, it’s worth the extra few bucks.
From seared halibut and scallops to grilled mediterranean sea bass and red snapper, these guys do seafood really well. My consistent go-to’s include the Volos Spetzofai (spicy lamb sausage, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, mint) and the Stuffed Cornish Hen with figs, pecans, and whipped feta potato. Top it off with the Ouzo Chocolate Mousse and you might actually want fight the traffic and look for a parking spot only to have the chance to keep eating here.
Transport yourself to Greece for an hour. Chat with the Chef in his kitchen and pick your meal. Sit down and enjoy the experience of eating in a truly relaxed Greek environment, surrounded by animated conversation in a family taverna atmosphere.
That’s Athens Restaurant.
This small family run spot has been rated tops by Greeks for years. 38 years in fact. But the reason why so many don’t know about it, is because it’s east of Pape Avenue. It turns out that yes, there IS life east of Pape.
No menus. That’s right, no menus. So how do you know what to eat? How do you know what you’re paying? Both valid questions. Here’s how it works. Greeted and seated, you’re invited into the kitchen to meet and speak with the Chefs. Conversation is instantly sparked and you meet the good people who’ve cooked your meal. Then you hand-pick exactly what you want to eat and how much. 10 minutes later, you’re served.
Now that’s as traditional Greek as it gets. I don’t know of any other restaurant in Toronto so transparent as to let customers into the kitchen, meet and greet the Staff and pick their plates.
I always start with a Greek Village Salad and go from there. It’s hard for me to tell you what else to get because the selection changes daily. Along with veggie options, there almost always seems to be a fairly wide selection of seafood, chicken, beef, lamb dishes as well as stuffed peppers and tomatoes ready to go.
Come to Athens and experience what it’s like to sit at a table, break bread and eat as if you were back in the old country. It’s an experience you’ll want to keep coming back to. And don’t worry, the bill won’t be as hefty as you think. In fact, it will make you smile. Quality dishes, incredible value!
Did I miss one? Did I miss two? Do you have a favourite that’s not on this list? Let me know. Always happy to hear from you about your go-to’s.
Thanks all and happy eating!