Delicious, affordable and fast — you can’t usually get all three together, but these Mediterranean restaurants in Atlanta will make an exception.
Each one is local and family-owned, if a bit off the beaten path. Metro Atlanta locals and visitors have long since discovered their authentic flavors, however, and they have the five-star reviews to prove it.
I visited each of these to see if they live up to the hype of their online reputation. The owners were kind enough to host me for a meal and share a little about their story. Which should you visit first? Here’s your guide.
Gyros To Go
Gyros To Go is the type of place that perfectly captures the phrase “hidden gem.” It’s nearly a mile from the handful of eateries that line the downtown Conyers strip. It looks different, too: a suburban ranch with a cash register in the foyer, a cooler of drinks in an open closet and Greek souvenirs on the mantel.
If I was a little skeptical walking in, the long (though fast-moving line) reassured me. Most people took their lunches to go, but the back porch and rooms were scattered with diners enjoying their meal from styrofoam plates.
The menu is simple. Wraps can be filled with gyro meat, chicken, souvlaki or veggies or turned into a platters. If you want a fusion of American and Mediterranean, try the pita burger. The pita around the mayonnaise-topped hamburger meat gives it an unexpected twist.
I filled up on the platter of richly seasoned gyro meat that I never wanted to end. The Greek potatoes were salty but just right doused in the cucumber-light (maybe cucumber-free?) tzatziki sauce. With the lunch rush, the wait was maybe 20 minutes, made fresh to order. I loved it and told the chef as much on my way out.
“Don’t tell anybody. It’s our best kept secret,” one diner called to me as he walked out.
If he only knew. But a mobile truck is coming around the end of the year, anyway, at which point Gyros to Go will have wheels and the word will be well and truly out, if it isn’t already.
Cafe Sababa in Dunwoody isn’t open on the weekend, but if you can make it mid-week, go. The restaurant opened more than eight years ago, run by Doni and Gil Tamli, chef brothers who infuse flavors from their dad’s Israeli and their grandparent’s Iranian heritage.
So what is “sababa?” The menu explains: the word is slang in Hebrew and Arabic for “cool” or “awesome” but its poetic roots mean something more like “ardent love.” And that’s what Cafe Sababa says they’re about, giving you an awesome time as you fall in love with their food.
There’s plenty of love; they were packed when I went. I tried the appetizer combo for maximum sampling, but the falafel was the clear winner here. The fried chickpea balls were crisp, not greasy, and all around perfect.
As an entree, I ordered the chicken shish kabob with grilled zucchini and yellow rice. It’s just one skewer, but the hunks of chicken breast are big. What I liked most about this dish is that it felt relatively healthy for a meal out. They have servers if you dine in, but I saw plenty of people get takeout, ready fast despite the crowds, so it’s still a great option for a quick meal on the go.
When you think Mediterranean food, you don’t usually imagine pizza and pitas together, but the tradition of baking flatbread-topped savory pies started long before the pizza we know and love today. (Just listen to the word “pita” in Greek and you’ll hear our word pizza.) If few restaurants tackle both, Colossus Pizza in Tucker has taken this challenge head-on.
They specialize in pizza, but several toppings have a Greek flair, such as feta, kalamata olives and gyro meat. You can even order a side of tzatziki sauce to dip your pizza in, as I did, and no one can judge you. Subs and pasta as well as gyros and wraps round out the menu, though a few items — fish and chips? Philly cheesesteak? — feel a bit extra, but at least you’re guaranteed to please any palette.
There are some true Greek culinary gems, like flaky spanakopita, stuffed grape leaves and, most impressive, saganaki, an appetizer of baked cheese splashed with brandy and set aflame. I stuck with a basic chicken pizza, though I now wish I’d been more adventurous. The toppings were good, but the crust was the star: crispy yet chewy and layered with flavor.
The vibe is casual and convivial. On Sundays, local musicians jam to bluegrass tunes. The restaurant, which first opened in 2015, is planning a grand reopening in January.
Located in a strip mall minutes off I-75 in Kennesaw, Mediterranean Bistro opened in 2014, a cheerful, counter-serve eatery popular with college students and anyone interested in great food at good prices.
The owner, Ahmed Darrar, hails from Morocco and brings some unique creations from his 35 years as a chef. One of these is the kofta kebab, his mom’s recipe of charbroiled ground beef, rich and perfectly seasoned. Another is the chicken kebab, marinated to the point of being some of the moistest chicken I’ve ever had. Everything is made fresh daily, except for those items that need longer to soak in the spices, like the homemade ranch dressing in the pasta salad. There are plenty of options for sides, but the standout for me was the chickpea salad, which had me casually asking the chef what went into it (cumin and a hint of cayenne) in the hopes that I could recreate something similar at home.
True to its name, the flavors span the region, from Spain to Israel. Their bestseller is the gyro plate, pita generously covered in thinly sliced lamb. The pita is pillowy and chewy. It’s particularly sublime with the tzatziki sauce, a creamier version than any I’ve had elsewhere.
The gyro plate is fast, but if you’re there on a weekday and can wait a bit longer, get the business lunch combo special. This king-like meal (in the feature photo) has shish kebab, kofta, gyro, pita, rice, salad and a drink for just $12.50. It has to be the best lunch deal going in Kennesaw, and I already can’t wait to return.
All told, this one was my favorite if I had to pick, though each is worth a visit. Even if you’re not in that part of town, make the drive.