First Taste

Spartan Pita & Gyro in Phoenix: Great Chicken Souvlaki and Htipiti — Plus a Philly Gyro Sandwich

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Spartan Pita & Gyro
Location: 4502 E. Thomas Road
Open: About two months 
Eats: Greek
Price: $10 and under/person 

About two months ago, Spartan Pita & Gryo opened at 4502 E. Thomas Road, in a recently-gutted strip mall just east of 44th Street on the north side of Thomas Road. The fast-casual restaurant took over the former home of Elie's Deli, a longstanding and (at one time) well-regarded restaurant that served American and Mediterranean food. But if you're mourning the loss of your neighborhood spot for kibbe and hummus, take comfort in knowing that Spartan's Greek fare is a pretty good consolation prize. 

Everything on the restaurant's menu will cost less than $10, except for the dinner platters and plates, which cost between $12 and $14. The selection of dishes is somewhat ordinary; there's a mix of approachable Greek options such as hummus, gyro pita, and Greek fries. But the restaurant also offers a few rarer options (think, htipiti) and American/Greek mashups including a Philly gyro served on a French baguette. 

We didn't try the hummus, opting for the htipiti ($5.25) instead. It was a good decision because the feta cheese and pepper spread ended up being our favorite part of the meal. At once salty and amped up with just the right amount of heat, this traditional Greek starter went perfectly with triangles of warm pita bread. And despite the low price, there was plenty to share among three hungry diners. 

We had to physically remove the dip from our immediate vicinity in order to save room for our chicken souvlaki pita ($6.25), which we ordered at the recommendation of the restaurant employee. Our only complaint — and we'll get it out of the way first — is that the tzatziki spread on the sandwich was all on the top of the open end of the sandwich. It was remedied easily enough but made our first bite less than ideal. 

On the upside, the chicken souvalki was moist and perfectly cooked as to deliver a nice, charred flavor in every bite. And if the devil's in the details, then we have to acknowledge how much we liked that Spartan uses diced tomatoes and red onions in their pitas as opposed to slices. The tiny cubes of veggies made for much easier eating, and we couldn't help wondering why more restaurants don't use that technique. 

Since we ordered our pita as a combo, the meal also included a drink and a side. Given the choice among fries, salad, and green beans, we chose the beans. At Spartan, they're done Greek style, which means cooked and cooked and cooked until they're deep green and soft and flavored with tomato and garlic. The "side" of green beans was generous and enjoyable. (It's always nice when the healthy side option actually tastes good.)  

On the American side of the menu, where you'll find burgers, hot dogs, and baguette sandwiches, you'll also find the Philly gyro ($6.75). It's exactly what you're thinking: a mashup between a Philly cheesesteak and a gyro. In the middle of a sliced baguette you get grilled gyro meat, feta cream cheese, and grilled onions and peppers. It's an ingenious invention that benefits from the fact that both the meat and bread are plenty good enough on their own. 

The only miss of our experience at Spartan was the spanakopita ($4.95). The spinach and cheese pie gets points for size, but the layers of dough weren't as crisp as we would have liked.

The decor at Spartan Pita & Gyro is, well, spartan. There are gray walls and minimal décor (and what décor there is consists of Spartan warrior shields and spears). But what the place might lack in appearance it more than makes up for with friendly service and above-average Greek cuisine. Here's to hoping the new neighborhood spot lasts as long as its predecessor did.
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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria