STAKE HOUSE: Souvlaki specializes in meat skewers.
Greek food is, in some ways, the opposite of Indian food. Instead of blending a lot of spices together and creating complex flavors, the trick is to use just a few to achieve a simple, pleasing taste. Maria Vlahopouliotis, the owner of Souvlaki Greek Skewers in San Jose, understands this not just from growing up in a Greek household but also from spending over a decade, until 2011, living in Greece, where she saw firsthand how the food is prepared.
While in Greece, she noticed a difference in the taste of the spices. Maybe it was just the air—or the dirt? When she started Souvlaki Greek Skewers last year, Vlahopouliotis decided to import some of her spices directly from Greece to capture that distinctive taste, such as the oregano in her “Greek Fries” ($2.99) and the cinnamon, which is prevalent in the baklava ($2.99).
The menu for Souvlaki hangs above the front register, handwritten on a chalkboard. Stacks of Greek desserts sit just to the right, along with a vertical spit of pork, to be shaved for gyros, just behind the cashier—authentic indeed, and casual, the equivalent of a cafe. The servers are all quite friendly and bring each item as it’s ready. The dishes that had meat on skewers took a little while, but they are freshly cooked, so one can’t really complain. I had a bowl of Greek lemon soup ($4.99) and a souvlaki plate ($14.99). The soup consists of chicken, orzo pasta and an egg-lemon broth, which gives it a taste much like chicken noodle soup, but with a delayed lemony punch that worked quite well.
The souvlaki plate comes with three skewers of meat—pork, chicken and bifteki (which is like a long burger on a stick)—and is served with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt dip) and two pitas sprinkled with paprika. The assortment of colors makes for a visually stunning and tantalizing plate. Alone, the pork and chicken are not particularly succulent, but within context of the fresh veggies and tzatziki sauce, the flavors all work well together. The bifteki tasted the best. For lunch the next day, I ordered the horiatiki, a traditional Greek salad ($2.99/$4.99). As opposed to an American “Greek salad,” there are no leafy greens, just Roma tomatoes, Kalamata olives, large chunks of feta cheese, bell peppers, cucumbers and crisp red onions. The salad is tossed with olive oil and herbs. I particularly appreciated the large amount of feta.
I also tried the lamb souvlaki sandwich ($7.99), which uses the same basic ingredients as the souvlaki plate, except they are already wrapped in a pita. The lamb, much like the pork and chicken, wasn’t particularly flavorful on its own but worked well in the context of the sandwich.
In the first few months Souvlaki was open, the pitas were made by hand. They are no longer made that way, but they are still very good and grilled just right. The baklava made, of course, for a pleasant end to the meal.
Souvlaki Greek Skewers
577 W. Alma Ave., San Jose; 408.289.1452
Find more Greek Restaurants in Silicon Valley with the SanJose.com Dining Directory.