Cafe Reviews

Mika's Greek in Downtown Phoenix Serves Surprisingly Authentic Greek Fare

You want authentic souvlaki, or a decent gyro, and you want it now. Usually, fast food and Greek aren't a great mix; falafel doesn't do well under heat lamps, and whoever heard of made-ahead lamb skewers? If you're craving excellent Greek fare, you're likely headed to someplace with faux Athenian décor, a lounge, and a live belly dancer.

Mika's Greek is neither a supper club nor one of those depressing, prefab fast food joints. Having recently expanded its small chain of two East Valley locations to downtown Phoenix, locally owned Mika's is a spotless diner that serves fresh-made, almost entirely authentic Greek fare. There are next to no surprises on Mika's menu, just customary Greek cuisine -- flavors and textures that send you briefly to Amphipolis, even when some of the traditional dishes fall short.

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Small and tidy, Mika's cozy, casual downtown dining room is filled with brushed steel two-tops and the typical large, framed photographs of faraway Greek villages. The menu offers an array of Greek classics, from souvlaki and hummus to dolma and baklava. Served with paper napkins and plastic flatware, the homestyle cuisine is too spot-on to be fast food and is often good enough to transport diners to Apollonia. Large portions, better-than-reasonable prices, and authenticity make up for the occasional culinary shortcut.

Meats are moist and boldly flavored, and pitas are available heaped with everything from grilled chicken to vegetable souvlaki; extra meat is offered for an additional charge, but it's hardly necessary -- entrée servings are more than generous. Traditional cold Greek yogurt-based dips also are authentic: thicker and less sweet, spiked with dill and cucumber flavors. Entrées come with two sides, and only the side salad, a super-fresh yet unexciting mélange of chopped romaine hearts, crumbled feta, diced tomatoes, and red onion, tossed with a dill-based dressing, was a disappointment. Generous piles of fluffy pita bread were served with pretty much everything: entrée, appetizer, soups, which meant no sharing or scavenging for something to dip into the various delicious flavors.

Because its menu is available for both lunch and dinner, I launched a Mika's midday meal with tasty falafel. Big, crispy-crusted marbles, they were moist and crumbly inside, peppery and bursting with fava-and-chickpea flavor. They could have been warmer, but I forgave them their temperature after dipping them into thick, cold tzatziki sauce, zingy with dill, lemon, and hints of garlic and rich with cucumber flavor and more substantial than most runny, American-made tzatziki I've had.

I admit it: I rolled my eyes at jalapeño hummus. But I haven't stopped craving it, one of very few fusion-inspired items on Mika's menu, since my first bite. Served with slices of cucumber and enough fluffy pita bread triangles to choke a Trojan horse, it offered the perfect amount of heat and the zippy flavor of jalapeño. Creamy and rich with cumin and tahini, the garbanzos weren't overwhelmed by the taste of hot peppers.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela

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