$10 Lunch: Juicy Gyro and Shawarma Platters in Scottsdale

A gyro and side of tabbouleh from Agápi Pita Mediterranean Grill in north Scottsdale.EXPAND
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.

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.

Grape leaves for dolmas are rolled in the kitchen.EXPAND
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.

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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