The late Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis may be world-famous, but no one could have guessed that he would be the source of inspiration for a neighborhood kebab place in a residential suburb of Athens.
Onassis, who was commonly called Ari or Aristos, was born in 1906 in Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey), only to later flee with his family to Greece in 1922, during the Greco-Turkish War. Poor but with a grand vision and a great mind, he went on to become one of the richest and most successful businessmen in the world.
When Vasilis and Panayiotis, who also own other successful eateries in town, opened their kebab restaurant Kyr-Aristos (kyr is short/slang for kyrios, which can be translated as “mister”) in spring 2013, they decided to name it after Onassis, a refugee from Smyrna, where kebab was a traditional food. Their hope was that the successful businessman would be their lucky charm. It seems as if he was.
Located on the ground floor of an old house in Palio Faliro, a suburb about a 15-minute drive south of downtown Athens, the restaurant was an immediate success. Word quickly spread that this was best kebab joint in town, and people from all over Athens flocked to the southern suburb to taste their legendary grilled meat. Only two months after the opening, Vasilis and Panayiotis expanded to the shop next door to cope with increased demand, particularly for home delivery orders.
Before we go any further, we must clarify something: when we use the term “kebab” in Greece, we mean something very specific. It refers to minced meat (traditionally a mix of lamb and beef, although in Greece you can find it in many variations, sometimes including pork) usually flavored with garlic, cumin and other spices, and then shaped into elongated sausage-like patties on a skewer. This popular form of grilled meat was mainly brought to Greece by Armenian refugees and Greeks who used to be based in Istanbul and Asia Minor. Most importantly, it differs from what we call souvlaki (souvla means skewer).
The general atmosphere and aesthetics of Kyr-Aristos, including the architecture of the building it’s housed in, are clearly inspired by the 1950s and 60s. In addition to photos of Onassis, the place is decorated with retro posters and signs from an earlier era.
Outside, dozens of tables line the veranda, all close to each other. On a recent visit, the place was full of people of all ages enjoying their meals, talking loudly as Greeks usually do when eating out. Around 8:30 p.m., which is early by Greek summer standards, a queue of people longing for a table was gradually snaking out the door.
Word quickly spread that this was best kebab joint in town.
Even though it’s always busy, the restaurant runs like a well-oiled machine. Waiters dressed in vintage clothing gracefully navigate the narrow paths left between tables while carrying big trays weighted down by drinks and large plates of food. Old Greek songs play in the background, perfectly fitting the nostalgic decor.
All the food here is prepared freshly and in-house, from the sauces and dips to the cold cuts and the minced meat. They use local ingredients, many of which, such as the cheeses, eggs and wine, are even organic. Their olive oil is from Kalamata, a city in the southern Peloponnese famed for its olives, and their meat is purchased straight from the producer – Vasilis and Panayiotis are faithful to their motto, “Simple ingredients of exquisite quality.”
The menu is relatively large, but the focus is on Anatolian-style kebabs served either on a big platter together with sliced onions, pita bread, a grilled tomato and a horn pepper, or wrapped in pita bread. Most popular are the yiaourtlou kebab (kebabs topped with yogurt and tomato sauce) and the kaserli kebab (kebabs with melted cheese), but we also see lots of people clutching kebabs wrapped in pita bread.
Their meat offerings go beyond kebabs – you can also find thinly hand-cut pastourma and soutzouki, cold cuts that are most commonly found on the tables of Greeks from Smyrna and Poli (the colloquial name for Istanbul, once home to a large Greek population), as well handmade beef sausage. We highly recommend the pastourma pie, a delicate pastry filled with slices of air-cured beef, melted kaseri cheese and sliced tomato. And on the weekend, they offer perfectly chargrilled mutton, simply seasoned with salt and oregano and served with half a lemon – it’s a juicy, tasty treat.
While Kyr-Aristos is decidedly a meat spot, there are vegetables to be found. We’re partial to the hand-cut fried potatoes, which can be ordered plain, with tomato sauce, with tomato and cheese, or topped with fried eggs. We also love the grilled tomatoes, seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar and freshly chopped parsley.
For dessert – that is if you have any space left after your feast – we recommend the walnut or orange pie. Both are delicious and go well with one of their homemade ice creams, preferably kaimaki, the traditional mastic and wild orchid root flavored ice cream.
The portions are large, sometimes too large, so they offer the option of ordering all their main dishes in a half portion. The prices are more than reasonable for what you get. Delicious kebabs that don’t break the bank seem to be a winning combination, as first-time customers quickly become regulars. It’s a business plan we imagine Onassis himself would have approved of.
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