The Best Gyros Athens is part of the Trip Report Athens Marathon: The Original Course which includes the following cities:
- Toronto, Canada
- Detroit, Michigan
- London, England
- Athens, Greece
- Giza, Egypt
- Cairo, Egypt
- Luxor, Egypt
- Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
- Abu Dhabi, UAE
Click here for the picture preview.
Pho is perfect for a Sunday lunch following a rough Saturday night, but gyros (pronounced ghee-ros), is the best fast food in the universe.
I went to Athens last month, not to run the grueling Original Course Marathon, but to search for delicious gyros. The intense research undoubtedly resulted in a slower marathon time and the tzatziki most assuredly was a contributing factor to my dehydration cramps.
Nevertheless, I have put together a guide for the top gyros in Athens. Mind you, it is not a complete list as everyone knows the next gyros is always the best gyros.
What Is Gyros?
Some have described it as the foodcarnation of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and pleasure. I describe it as Greek heroin, the ultimate food high. I ingested it as a child and have been chasing that high ever since.
In less poetic terms, gyros is a sandwich or plate of meat and toppings. Let’s begin with the toppings:
In sandwich form, the bread is pita, the toppings are tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki. The addition of lettuce and the inclusion of sacrilegious fries vary from vendor to vendor. In a gyro plate, fries are prohibited, a whole pita is given along with sides of onion, tomatoes, and tzatziki.
As yummy as those toppings are, what makes a gyros a gyros is the meat. Cooked on a vertical rotisserie, gyro meat can be beef, veal, mutton, pork, or chicken (reference Wikipedia). In the United States, gyro meat tends to be a combination of beef and lamb. In Athens, the gyro meat sampled was either pork or chicken. Like pho, chicken has no place in a gyro discussion.
Note: Gyros are not to be confused with schawarma or kebab, tasty treats no doubt, but not on the same level as the gyro.
The Gyro Contenders
- Pita Pan: Pita Pan was the first recommendation I received for gyros in Athens. It is a chain of restaurants. The location I went to was being remodeled. I include it on the list because there’s no disputing how clever the name is.
- The Greco’s Project: I was suspicious as to the tasteability of the Greco’s Project’s gyros because it was a dine-in restaurant that served gyros sandwiches. Traditionally, gyros sandwiches are best manufactured in carry-out establishments. Furthermore, the location, right off of Syntagma Square, made me suspect that it was a tourist trap restaurant. Establishments in the city center overcharge on price but underwhelm on substance. (see Don’t Pay $30 for Tacos.) I was thrilled that this pork gyro was neither of the two. While the meat wasn’t the grease bucket that I love to bathe in, the tzatziki and fresh tomatoes complimented the sandwich perfectly.
- In-N-Out Gyro: This wasn’t the name of the gyro joint but it is safe to say, having frequented many, that the typical gyro carry out place will have a no nonsense, savory gyro prepared freaky fast. Actually, unlike Jimmy John’s the wait for a gyro always feels like an eternity no matter how quick the artist slices and dices the meat. This particular gyro spot put fries in the sandwich. Traditionalists are appalled at the use of fries but I’ll take the contrarian view and say that they were gratifying. The best thing about carry out gyro is that it’s cheap, so if it isn’t up to your gyro palette, discard it, and find the next one.
- O Thanasis: Legend has it (aka the front desk man at the King George Hotel) that O Thanasis started as a street vendor serving traditional gyro sandwiches. The gyros became so popular that he purchased the city block and opened a full-service restaurant that serves gyros the way it was meant to be served: heavy on the oil, loaded with meat, and absent of fries. As a Gyropean, I will say that O Thanasis had the best tzatziki and delicious gyro meat. Since it is a proper restaurant, the price wasn’t as appetizing as the food.
The winner was my belly. All of the restaurants were great. Furthermore, it takes a lot of effort to mess up a gyro sandwich. Still, if I had to choose the winner for best gyro, I’d have to go with the wildcard, late entry of Fleetwood Diner in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
For more great food check out TPOL’s Let’s Eat! Libations Travel Menu.