When Louie Alexakis and his team opened Avli Taverna in Lincoln Park in 2018 after the success of their Winnetka location, it paved the way for three more urban locations to follow in just four years.
Chicago’s Greek food scene has shown few signs of slowing down since, with openings showcasing the many dimensions of the kitchen, with seafood, spices, produce and meze, or small type plates. tapas.
That, notes Alexakis, is one of the most important things to remember about Greek cuisine: “It can be regional and creative,” he said. “Twenty years ago, Italian food was Italian food, but today you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this Northern Italian? Is this Tuscan? And we’ve seen this renaissance now in Greek cuisine.
Beyond the nuances of regionality, there are the health benefits; the cuisine gives pride of place to fruits, vegetables and fish. The fact that Greek tourism is booming adds to the country’s allure – and each of these restaurants helps bring us closer to the gentle Mediterranean way of life.
“What we see with all these restaurants coming in is that Greek cuisine is not a narrow definition but is actually quite broad,” Alexakis said. “Greek cuisine really has a bigger scale – this is, I believe, just the beginning.”
It didn’t take long for this Logan Square newcomer to achieve national fame, thanks to welcoming interiors, warm hospitality and an impressive wine list featuring more than 25 Greek labels.
And then, of course, there’s the culinary program, which pays serious homage to seafood with sustainable practices (think small-boat vendors, using whole fish, and in-house butchering).
The team is inspired, as its name suggests, by Andros, the northernmost island of the Cyclades archipelago; as well as all of Greece’s eastern coastline, particularly Volos (for meze and tsipouro drink culture) and Thessaloniki, a crucial port for seafood and the spice trade. These influences are found in plates such as crispy Mediterranean octopus or charcoal-cooked pork shoulder gyros.
And to top it all off, a robust baking program features such finales as chocolate halva mousse and, yes, baklava froyo. 2542 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-365-1900, androstaverna.com
The team behind Prime & Provisions, Siena Tavern and BomboBar had developed this concept over the past decade, through countless trips to Greece. A memorable encounter with a street musician playing a lyre, an ancient Greek stringed instrument, was not the only source of inspiration from Mykonos; Hyper-fresh seafood, a plethora of produce, and low-key party vibes all help inform the ethos here.
Start with orders like sea bass carpaccio and prawn saganaki, then make way for larger plates including whole Mediterranean branzino, slow-roasted lamb gyros or cast-iron moussaka. Keep the sides and salads coming (think grilled Florina peppers or vine-ripened tomatoes with barrel-aged feta), order another glass of Assyrtiko, and enjoy the evening. Between the DJ tracks, live music, and island decor, it’s an easy task here. 905 W. Fulton Market, 312-660-7722, lyrarestaurant.com.
Inspired by their shared appreciation of food and hospitality, friends Elizabeth Gartelos Morris and Beth Salentin launched Meze Table, a food delivery and takeout service specializing in small plates. The menu is largely inspired by the slow-cooking philosophies of the Peloponnese peninsula, where Gartelos Morris’ family hails from, but she and Salentin have just as quickly weaved in influences from the street food of Athens.
The result? Orders such as vegetarian moussaka (layers of roasted eggplant, onions and potatoes with Greek bechamel) or spanakopita (crispy phyllo wraps of Bulgarian spinach and feta). Their favorite board is the classic meze, an impressive spread of beef and pork meatballs with mint and parsley; peppers stuffed with ground beef in tomato sauce; cold potato, garlic and lemon dip; and lots of seasonal vegetables. Order two days in advance for pickup or delivery Thursday-Saturday and get a group together—these platters are meant to be shared. mezetable.catering
Scheduled to open this week, Kala blends a fast-casual approach with fine dining philosophies, while marrying classic Greek cuisine with contemporary flavors and techniques. Many of the recipes come from her partner Stephanie Guerre’s family and are rooted in the traditions of Kalamata — a city known for its remarkable olive oil, but also for its vibrant citrus dishes and savory pork entrees.
Kala’s menu is peppered with options like the Chicken Souvlaki Sandwich with Cara Cara Orange and Fennel, or a Stacked Pork Version with Pickled Red Onions and Garlic and Cucumber Greek Yogurt. And while meat lovers will find plenty to taste, vegetarians are in good hands too, thanks to options like halloumi cheese with sour cherry jam or baked feta with flaky filo pastry, honey and toasted sesame seeds. 2523 N. Clark Street, kalachicago.com
Diners can head to five locations at this Greek restaurant, including the most recent opening within the Time Out Market (where they serve frozen smoothies and street food).
The kitchen team is keen to reflect several regions in its cuisine: meatballs from the ancient Greek city of Smyrna, honey and cheese pie from Crete, prawns with feta from Piraeus and wild vegetable pie from Epirus, to name a few.
Consider dedication to geographic detail part of the team’s manifesto, which emphasizes meraki (doing something with heart and soul) and philoxenia (friendliness towards strangers). Sample this chef’s table hospitality at Avli on the Park, just east of the Loop. The experience is served in a private dining space and offers two tasting menus to choose from: the land (inspired by the fields, orchards and pastures of Greece) and the sea (an ode to the seas, fisheries and islands ). Multiple locations, avli.us
Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer.
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