Gyro (credit: Chow.com)
It’s a long way from Athens and it cannot hold a candle to Chicago’s Greektown, but the East Bay has its share of small gyro and souvlaki spots, and some stars among them. Look for Greek, family-run small businesses with quality meat and generous portions for a good price, rather than focusing on the décor. Some premises are so tiny that they’re better suited for takeout orders.
3900 San Pablo Ave.
Emeryville, CA 94608
Wally’s is a star. This haven of all things yummy and Mediterranean has never been easy to find, down a tight alleyway behind a dive bar. But that adds to its allure. Coming in as number 66 on a national list of the top 100 rated restaurants on Yelp in early 2014, that’s pretty outstanding. Owner Walter Matar is of Lebanese background, but Greek gyros make it onto his menu, simply described as “beef and lamb or chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, yogurt.” There’s also a gyro plate. Wally’s also offers a free lentil soup starter and a baklava dessert with every meal.
2318-A Central Ave.
Alameda, CA 94501
Order the seven-inch or the nine-inch lamb and beef gyros with tzatziki sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and onions or the gyros platter with grilled eggplant, zucchini and horiatiki Greek salad. With two more locations in Berkeley (College Ave. and Solano Ave.), Troy is a staple on the East Bay gyro scene and the first choice of many who debate subtleties, such as are the onions better raw or grilled. Save room for the excellent Greek fries.
1941 University Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704
It’s a Greek family-run business in this location since 2009, with a 30-year history operating Greek restaurants and nightclubs in Chicago and in the Bay Area, so Athineon knows its food. Its substantial and great-tasting gyro with fries that UC Berkeley undergrads can vouch for is a luncheon staple. The house specialty is called a Spartan sandwich, which is actually an overgrown gyro combined with a souvlaki in a doubly big pita. This could be the biggest sandwich in town; add jalapeños if you love heat with yours.
4060 Piedmont Ave.
Oakland, CA 94611
The gyro is Simply Greek’s signature dish, cooked to the same tasty recipes and with a good, fluffy pita bread, just like at grandmother’s place back home. This spot serves more types of gyros than most places in the area, including the veggie, steak and Philly. Its super-sized version containing your choice of two fillings — gyro, pork, ground beef or seasoned grilled chicken — is called the Titan. Established in 2002 by a native of Greece, this casual and authentic kitchen also has locations at Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and in Pleasanton.
105 Town Country Drive
Danville, CA 94526
Santorini Mediterranean has a full bar and wines to complement the Mediterranean menu in a place that’s more conducive to eating in or on the front patio. You’re welcomed with warm, freshly baked pita with dipping sauces brought to the table (with linens) for nibbling while you look over the selections, which include a beef and lamb gyro and a gyro platter. High marks go to the lamb flavoring and the house-made tzatziki with a bit of zing to it. There’s plenty of parking at this location in a small shopping center which opened in 2012.