If someone were to do a Yelp search for Greek restaurants in Chicago, he or she would see there are 108 listed under the category of “Greek” in Chicago. That’s a substantial number to choose from, which makes it all the more difficult to choose. In Greek Town alone, there are 15 restaurants within its small 0.039 square mile area. So where do you go if you’re looking for great authentic Greek food?
That’s precisely what was asked of George, a Greek resident of one of Chicago’s southwest suburbs. Without hesitation, he recommended a trip to the Parthenon Restaurant located in Chicago’s Greek Town. Not only do they have over a hundred dishes to select from, but they also excel in the three most popular dishes: Saganaki, Lamb and Gyros. Why is this important? Well, whosoever excels in all three is worthy of being considered one of Chicago’s best Greek restaurants.
In general, Saganaki refers to different Greek dishes prepared in a frying pan, the most known being an appetizer of fried cheese. It’s a well-known dish within the Greek community and those familiar with the cuisine, but most Americans never heard of it until 1968 when Chris and Bill Liakouras opened the Parthenon Restaurant in Greek Town.
What was once an unknown simple cheese dish is now a highly sought after food spectacle. When the Liakouras brothers first introduced their version of it in 1968, they added brandy and flambéed it. With the strike of a match or the click of a cigarette lighter, the brandy momentarily ignited the cheese with orange flames long enough to capture anyone’s attention. As the flames captivated onlookers, the word “Opa” burst into the air along with the flames, creating a novelty that quickly spread throughout the country.
If you like lamb, Parthenon is well worth the trip because they spit-roast whole lambs on the weekends. On top of that, they have it featured in their Halsted Street window for all to see. It is cooked until the ideal doneness is reached, and then taken down to be carved for diners to enjoy. You won’t find this in most Greek restaurants in Chicago. In fact, they are the only ones in Greek Town that do this.
Finally, it’s impossible to talk about Greek food without mentioning Gyros (pronounced “yeeros”). There is good Gyros, and there are great Gyros. The good ones come in the form of a commercialized and preprocessed cone that looks like an oversized-Band Aid colored popsicle. Unlike most of their counterparts, the Parthenon doesn’t settle for good. Instead, they have great Gyros that have always been made in-house. Slabs of lamb and beef are basted with spices and cured for a few days before they are hung alongside the lamb. The difference is noticeable not only in the taste, but also in color. Instead of the typical dark grey-like color indicative of commercial Gyros, theirs will have tinges of pink and other degrees of proper doneness.
So there you have it. If you want an “Opa” of a time dining at an authentic Greek restaurant, be sure to stop by the Parthenon, located at 314 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60661.
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