One of the axioms of eating in the LA area is that there are more Greek places than you think there are. There are also more places that pretend to be greek (Lebanese places masquerading as Greek). Yet, when people ask about Greek food they get directed to Papa Cristo's, Papadakis Taverna, the Great Greek, or... Daphne's. And I don't mean to imply that Daphne's is bad; I mean to say it right out: Daphne's is bad. My search for Greek food in Orange County is mostly a way to never have to eat at Daphne's again when I'm craving gyros or lamb souvlakia.
So you can imagine my surprise as I was headed to Kaffa! for a cup of their very good coffee and I drove past Greek Garden Grill. I mean, how could I miss it? I drink coffee at Kaffa!, I eat at Hollingshead Delicatessen. I have spent multiple happy Chowhound moments twenty metres from the door of this place. It's been open a year, how on earth did I manage to completely miss its existence?
Well, I've eaten there a few times in the last few days and it is now firmly fixed in my Chow-dar, because it's really very good.
The avgolemono (chicken, rice and lemon soup) was very good -- appropriately lemony, quite velvety, and with big chunks of tender chicken breast in it. My only complaint is that it had too much pepper floating on top (white pepper -- no ugly flecks in this soup), so the first several bites are quite pungent if you don't figure out to stir the soup. A huge portion -- a pint -- is $3.95.
Melitzanosalata (eggplant salad, $4.95) was quite good, slightly smoky, a bit oily, garlicky enough. I think I prefer its cousin babaghannouj, but I wanted to try it since they don't have the absolute ambrosia of Greek meze, taramosalata. (Someday I will find taramosalata as good as the heavenly specimen served at Lefteris in Tarrytown, NY, which still dances through my dreams.)
The gyros plate ($8.95) was very good -- cut thickly enough that it stayed tender with the reheating, but with good, crisp edges that crackled nicely. The plate comes with lemon potatoes (outstanding), rice (good but unnecessary, more potatoes please), tzatziki (excellent, creamy and garlicky) and pita wedges. I'd have preferred two pita halves instead of the wedges so that I could build sandwiches. The pita was soft on top and slightly crisp on the bottom. It is not pocket pita, incidentally. If $8.95 is not in your budget, try the sandwich with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki wrapped up with the gyros in pita, plus fries, for $6.95.
Greek salad (small $2.95, large $5.95, with gyros or chicken gyros $8.95, with grilled salmon $9.95) is very good. I have no idea where they get such good tomatoes in March, but I'm glad they get such good tomatoes in March. Onions are cut oddly which makes them messy to eat. The feta is good and creamy and not too salty -- crumbles over the salad rather than the more traditional wedges. Olives are pitted (translation: no pits in the olives) and not mushy. This is a horta salad (contains lettuce and, in this case, pepperoncini) rather than horiatiki (never contains lettuce). Dressing is well-blended, not overly-sweet, and comes on the side in a little plastic tub. Since it's well-known that I think salads are ruinously overdressed as a matter of habit, this suits me just fine.
Pastitsio ($8.95) is very tasty, heavy on the pasta (picture pasta tossed with lamb ragu and topped with béchamel and egg). The egg topping was a little much for me. I think it's time to admit that I'm not the hugest fan of pastitsio. The topping does little for me and I'd rather just have pasta and lamb sauce. This comes with a small Greek salad.
Moussaka ($8.95) is absolutely outstanding, far and away the best dish I had there. Really rich ground lamb (hand-made, according to the lady behind the counter) and tomato sauce, absolutely perfectly baked eggplant, and a layer of breadcrumbs that turn into this amazing, almost masa-para-tamales-like layer. It's topped with béchamel mixed with egg, but the egg in this one was not overcooked -- I don't know how they did it, but the eggs don't get all gelatinous. They should figure it out for the pastitsio. Moussaka also comes with a small Greek salad.
They seem to be continually out of galaktoboureko (a Greek pastry of phyllo and custard that might be my single favourite sweet in the entire world) -- none of the times I went was it available. I did sample the baklava ($2.95), made by the owner. It was very good -- crisp phyllo rather than mushy -- though I would have ground the nuts JUST a bit finer and I'd leave the cinnamon off the top. This is easy to accomplish -- ask for honey syrup only, no cinnamon, and you'll enjoy it much more, I think.
I still want to try the grilled salmon, the leg of lamb and the stuffed tomatoes and bell peppers ($9.95, $9.95 and $8.95, respectively).
I'm glad to have found this. It is excellent quick-service Greek food, it's good value (it's expensive, but the portions are huge), it's near my office and the food stands up well to travel on those occasions when I need to take it out (like tonight, where I stopped in after working out and did not want to be stinking up their restaurant any more than I needed to).
Dining in means china plates, but paper napkins. Decor is a bit thin -- blue and white neon light stripes, though there are fresh herbs in pots on each table (I snuck a mint leaf off one of them. Shhhh, don't tell!) The place was originally set up for point-point (you know, steam-table) but they don't use it. Instead, in the glass display is a sample of each dish, made that day. That is, frankly, what made me try the moussaka -- it looked appetising even after an entire day sitting under plastic wrap.
One final note -- this place is directly across the street from the OCTA offices, CHOC and St. Joseph's Hospital. The parking at lunchtime is absolutely hellacious. Don't think you'll be all smart and park across Culver Ave. in the Hollingshead parking lot, either, because it's always jammed as well. I will, however, let you in on the little secret: Culver Ave. and Alpine Rd., which abut the minimall, usually have plenty of parking and it's 2-hour restrictions (Tuesday mornings street sweeping).
I continue my quest to find the LA equivalent of Houston's outstanding Niko Niko's, but in the meantime I'm happy to know that good Greek food can be got just a few miles from my house.
Greek Garden Grill
424 S. Main St. #D
Orange, CA 92868
Hours: Daily 11 AM to 9 PM
Greek Garden Grill
424 S Main St, Suite D Orange, CA