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$10 Lunch: Juicy Gyro and Shawarma Platters in Scottsdale

A gyro and side of tabbouleh from Agápi Pita Mediterranean Grill in north Scottsdale.
A gyro and side of tabbouleh from Agápi Pita Mediterranean Grill in north Scottsdale. Chris Malloy
If the sight of meat rotating on a spit rushes your blood, you might want to check out Agápi Pita and Mediterranean Grill the next time you’re in north Scottsdale. In a casual space with decorative sea-blue windows recalling some Aegean island, you can see, through a long kitchen window, the sweating goods.

In the back, second, you'll see a mass of chicken-thigh shawarma, sides uneven from recent shearing, spinning gently on its spit.

And first: a dense meat cone of gyro, a union of lamb and beef uniform but angular from recent shavings. The gyro meat rotates on its metal axis, glistening, dripping.

Come the next dine-in, take-out, or delivery order, paper-thin folds of either may be buzzed off, the shavings collecting below in a pan.

click to enlarge The inside and window into the kitchen, home of spit-rotating meats. - CHRIS MALLOY
The inside and window into the kitchen, home of spit-rotating meats.
Chris Malloy
Driving through its long generic strip mall nestled along Scottsdale Road in northern Scottsdale, you could easily miss Agápi Pita and Mediterranean Grill. That would be a loss, because the husband-and-wife team behind it have been preparing satisfying pitas and platters from these two spit-carved meats, as well as from other Mediterranean and Levantine staples.

Nikki Zai and Ash Zai opened Agápi just a few months ago. Ash has prior experience with this general cuisine and category of restaurant, having run a few in Stockholm, Sweden before moving to Arizona. Nikki describes the food as “Mediterranean/Greek/Middle Eastern,” and also cites Lebanon as a country of influence. You can detect Lebanon in the sumac dotting the tabbouleh a crimson-pink, Greece in the tzatziki zagging falafel and gyro pitas. Though the geographic focus is loose, Agápi is solid place for an on-the-go meat, dolmas plate, or baba ghanoush, then a baklava heady with rosewater syrup for the road.

click to enlarge Grape leaves for dolmas are rolled in the kitchen. - CHRIS MALLOY
Grape leaves for dolmas are rolled in the kitchen.
Chris Malloy
For the baba ghanoush, a creamy swirl of eggplant-tahini puddles with golden olive oil. It is smoky and heavy on the sesame, a great vehicle for the pita halfmoons that seem to come with everything. Dolmas are rolled in-house, the grape leaves sharp with mint and dill.

You’ll go over the $10 lunch mark if you order one of these sides. You’ll fly at least a few dollars north if you opt for a bowl of tabbouleh, which, Nikki may warn when you order, is really more of a dish of its own than a sidekick. A small field of chopped parsley fills a bowl with its foresty sharpness, zapped with lemon juice and sumac that both work toward brightness. Lemon juice pools at the bottom. All that shine yin-yangs nicely with spit-roasted meat.

 "Plates" come with meat, rice, pitas, raw tomato and red onion slices, and a deep cup of more tzatziki. A friendly portion of yellow rice, far more than an afterthought, gains color and flavor from turmeric and saffron.

But at a place with pita in the name, you probably want to try one.

click to enlarge A chicken shawarma platter carved right from the spit. - CHRIS MALLOY
A chicken shawarma platter carved right from the spit.
Chris Malloy
And here you definitely do if you want to keep your lunch comfortably below the $10 mark. The falafel at Agápi is vegan, golden-brown balls fried from a blend of lentils and fava beans, a classic pita filling. Agápi veers into some interesting territory, like Philly cheese steak, but my money is on the gyro, doubly so if you exercise the no-brainer option to add giardiniera for a paltry $.65 more.

The rounded heat and acid of the giardiniera form the keystone of this well-made gyro. The pickling and tang at once cut and improve the gray shavings piled atop your pita like a rumpled bedsheet, like a mean lunch to fill you up for half the day.

Agápi Pita Mediterranean Grill.
13802 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale; 480-626-9224.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday. 
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy