I love gyros. They’re a culinary delight bursting with flavor, from the lamb/beef combo slow-roasted to perfection on a rotating spike to the creamy tzatziki sauce cooling your palate with every bite.
Unfortunately, most places don’t know how to make a great gyro sandwich, as this Chicago native sadly discovered upon moving to Los Angeles.
Chicago’s Amazing Gyro Sandwiches
If there is one thing that Chicagoans do right, it’s food. You can’t visit without trying the pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, and Polish sausages the city makes famous.
But many visitors don’t realize that Chicago has mastered all ethnic cuisines, including Greek.
Burger joints in Chicago often offer gyros in addition to the hot dogs and hamburgers you’d expect, and they’re fantastic!
Nicky’s Gyros, on the corner of 147th and Cicero in Crestwood, serves a mouthwatering gyro platter of epic proportions. The pan-fried pita bread has a slightly crispy toasted outside and a soft, warm center. Nicky’s uses real gyro meat shaved from a rotating spire and heaps the pita so much that you can barely fold it. They top it off with a rich, creamy tzatziki sauce bursting with flavor and fresh onion, lettuce, and tomato.
It’s a perfect gyro sandwich.
Nicky’s isn’t the only place to get a great gyro in Chicago. Most mom-and-pop burger stands serve them up right. Check out Rosie’s in Oak Lawn or T&G’s in Blue Island.
I prefer Nicky’s because it offers a nostalgic feeling from childhood, but all the local joints offer delicious sandwiches.
A Quest for a Gyro in Los Angeles
When I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, I had no idea how difficult it would be to find a gyro even half as good.
Most places in California don’t understand the concept of pan-frying pita bread. If you are lucky, you will get real gyro meat in a dry, uncooked piece of pita when you order a gyro. It’s not even remotely comparable to a Chicago gyro’s crispy, greasy, pan-fried deliciousness.
It’s even worse if you aren’t lucky. Some places don’t even use real shaved gyro meat – they use *shudder* frozen processed meat! Blasphemy in the gyro world!
After so much disappointment, I embarked on a quest to find an authentic gyro in Los Angeles, and it was a lot harder than I anticipated.
I must have tried hundreds of restaurants.
I even asked some places if they could fry the pita bread, only to be met with a look of profound confusion. One person thought I wanted him to put the pita in a deep fryer!
My friends in California thought I was nuts. Of course, they would; they’ve never been to Chicago, and they don’t know the mouthwatering perfection of an authentic street gyro! They thought I was too particular, just a food snob from Chicago, thinking only the Windy City does food right.
I insisted Chicago made real gyros and set out to prove it when I visited Greece, the inspiration for the American gyro.
Greece had been on my bucket list since I was a young child. I was enamored with the mythos of the ancient culture from an early age, and when I had the chance to visit the country, I jumped on it.
I am obsessed with gyros (souvlaki in Greece!), and I was going to their birthplace. I could finally sample an authentic gyro in the country that inspired their creation!
The Perfect Gyro in Athens
Athens has numerous food stalls and fast food restaurants offering gyro-type sandwiches. They’re scattered all over the main touristy areas, and although I sampled quite a few that all matched Chicago’s style, that wasn’t good enough for me.
I wanted an authentic gyro, one the locals eat.
I wandered away from the downtown area to the city’s outskirts, where I found a tiny hole-in-the-wall fast food joint swarmed with locals going about their day. I knew it was the right choice when I saw the Greek-only menu (luckily, it had pictures!) and met the clerk who spoke no English.
I made a valiant attempt to order with my hands in a language I couldn’t speak, and the clerk quickly understood what I wanted. They specialized in gyro sandwiches, after all.
My mouth watered with anticipation as I paid and carried my prize to my hotel room.
I unwrapped the greasy feast from the paper and saw the glorious truth: Chicago was right!
The Greek gyro’s pita bread was lightly pan-fried to perfection with a crispy coating and warm, delicious center. The meat was freshly cut from the spire, and the homemade tzatziki was richer than any I’ve ever tasted in the US.
But Greek gyro’s had something special even Chicago never replicated: they added crispy fries inside the sandwich! The combination of flavors and textures in every bite added a special something I had never thought possible.
I scarfed the entire sandwich down in less than five minutes.
It was worth it, although I was stuffed and in a full-blown food coma. I’d return to Athens for another bite of that delicious sandwich.
My quest was complete.