As a Greek American, one of my biggest qualms with the typical Greek restaurants in the United States is that they get lumped into a very small group of standardized dishes. People here judge a Greek restaurant for how well they grill meat, can make a gyro, or how sweet their baklava is.
There’s so much more to Greek food, however, but it is hard to find many of the lesser-known dishes. If your local Greek church has a food festival, it’s possible to find them there. For me, the best place to track them down is establishments that have been the heart of major Greek communities for generations.
On the West Coast of the United States, there’s really only one place that can serve as that: Papa Cristo’s, the Los Angeles market-restaurant that’s stood across from the city’s large Greek cathedral for over 70 years. It started as C&K Imports and was a marketplace to get all of your Greek needs at, from honey made at monasteries and tangy imported Feta to Greek spirits like ouzo and metaxa.
Later on, owner Chrys Chrys added on a restaurant space that served burgers and fries, but swapped it out for traditional Greek favorites in the early 90s. Since then, it’s also become one of the quintessential Greek eateries west of the Mississippi. Papa Cristo’s has gained this level of fame through their old school preparation methods, including slow-roasting their lamb and taking multiple days to make their roasted potatoes.
Chrys keeps standards like gyros and baklava in both the restaurant and marketplace, but it’s the rest of the menu that you should come to partake in. Papa Cristo’s grills up seafood just like back on the Greek islands, including baby octopus, tsipoura (Greek sea bream), shrimp, and calamari. What makes it more special is the berbere-spiced tahini it’s served with, which is sold in the marketplace and adds an aromatic, tangy touch to the seafood.
Other specials on the menu include loukomades, the anicent Greek precursor to donuts. You can get them drizzled with honey and walnuts or served with ice cream to make it a “sundae.” Chrys has also added more unique offerings, like “pitzas” (pita-based pizzas) topped with Greek loukaniko sausage or spanakopita (spinach pie) filling. On weekends, there’s hard-to-find eats like yemistes (stuffed tomatoes and bell peppers) and pastitsio (the Greek pasta bake that inspired lasagna) on offer as well. One cannot also pass on Papa Cristo’s without tasting their legendary lamb sandwich, a simple yet mouthwatering meal that has made the likes of Guy Fieri drool.
Papa Cristo’s has been the epicentre of the LA Greek community for generations. The old-school Greek food and the marketplace full of Greek essentials make it a treasure for Greeks like me looking for both a taste and feel of back home.
To discover more about the legend of Papa Cristo’s, you can view the full Foodbeast feature on the restaurant and marketplace in the above YouTube video.