Our Gyro (and Souvlaki) Gauntlet in Greece

My wife and I spent three weeks in Greece for our honeymoon. We were 23 years old with student loans, had put entirely too much money towards our wedding, and were planning on moving to Raleigh, NC from Florida when we returned from our trip. Needless to say, we didn’t have a big budget for our not-so-lavish honeymoon. To stretch our $3k of allocated funds for 3 weeks, we visited during shoulder season, stayed in some questionable accommodations, and put restrictions on our dining options. We utilized bakeries and supermarkets, ordered mostly appetizers for family-style dinners, and ate a lot of Greek gyros.

Gyros vs. Souvlaki

There are two kinds of meat preparation we ate and two different styles in which they are served in Greece. The meat preps are gyros (pronounced /YEE-roh/, not /JAHY-roh/) and souvlaki, and they’re typically made from chicken, pork, or sometimes lamb/mutton. Gyros are layers of meat stacked on top of each other, slow roasted on a vertical spit and are the iconic Greek meat people expect to see when they visit. Souvlaki are pieces of meat that are skewered and grilled. Traditional gyros require special machines to produce large batches, but if a vendor has a good setup, they’re hard to get wrong. Souvlaki is easy to make, but hard to master. That being said, we usually preferred the gyros over the souvlaki, but when it was done really well, souvlaki hands down beat gyros.

Gyros and souvlaki are both typically served in different ways. Sometimes they’re served on a platter with vegetables and pita on the side. They’re accompanied by tzatziki, a cucumber yogurt dip that is popular in Southeast Europe and the Middle East. Tzatziki is usually acidic and filled with herbs like dill, mint, parsley, or thyme. We found Greek tzatziki was usually some combination of cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice, and dill… absolutely delicious with the savory meats. Usually these platters are served with fries, but we couldn’t tell if that’s to cater to tourists or if that was a traditional way of making it. Regardless, almost every place we went served it with fries.

The second serving style is in a pita wrap. This was our preferred style to order because it tended to be cheaper and fast, which was very helpful if we were in a rush. Usually the platter cost around 7 – 11 euros and the wraps cost around 1.50 – 3 euros. We would often order one pita wrap [each] at a time, then get one or two more if we were particularly hungry. The wraps were usually about the size of a flatbread you’d see in the United States and were generously stuffed with meat, tomato, onion, tzatziki, and fries. We were amazed at how different each wrap we ate was from the last, which helped a lot when ordering them every day or two… did I mention we were on our honeymoon?

The Gauntlet

I won’t deny that eating a bunch of gyros over a few weeks of vacationing is fun by nature, but we decided to take it to another level. We tried gyro and souvlaki pitas at every destination on our trip, tasting throughout Santorini, Crete, Athens, Nafplio, and Kalabaka near Meteora. We updated an ongoing list, dissecting each main component of the wrap, and the combined parts as a whole, trying to determine which was the best gyro or souvlaki pita on our trip. We ate a lot of great pitas in Greece, but we want to highlight our top picks.

Best Tzatziki

We disagreed with a few picks, but we both agreed on the best tzatziki of our gyro marathon. O Kostas in Athens is highly renowned as being the best souvlaki pita in Greece, and while we disagree with that opinion, we both agree their tzatziki is delicious. It is packed with flavor, and they tend to put a generous dollop in their wraps. These pitas seem more traditional and they don’t serve them with fries inside. Their souvlaki meat is delicious, much better than most places we visited. But the star of the show is hands down the tzatziki. When you’re in Athens, it’s worth paying them a visit. Although O Kostas pitas are a bit smaller and more expensive than most throughout this Mediterranean metropolis, they do serve a mean pita with good souvlaki, and great tzatziki. Order a couple and enjoy them on a bench outside the shop.

Best Fries

In proper American fashion, we can appreciate good french fries, and we had a lot of them in Greece. We typically avoid eating burgers, pizza, and dishes like fries when we’re in a foreign place unless those are a part of the local cuisine as well. However, since the typical pita is served with fries, we fully embraced it. My wife and I disagreed on our top picks for fries. My favorite was from a place that felt a little more like fast food, Karvounaki, in Fira. Though, this was our very first gyro pita on our trip, so maybe my perspective was a little too emotional at the time. My wife preferred Tasty Souvlaki Grill‘s fries in Chania, Crete. I enjoyed the atmosphere of that restaurant, sitting outside at the entrance to the old harbor town, but when it comes to the fries, we agree to disagree.

Best Meat

The most impactful component of a Greek pita is the meat. As explained earlier, we had a lot more gyros that were delicious than souvlaki, but our favorite meat was souvlaki in the end. The ferries don’t run much during shoulder season, so we flew to and from our island destinations. When we left Santorini en route to Crete, we had to fly from the island to Athens, wait for our layover, then fly into Heraklion, Crete. The coastal city has some cool ruins around it and some great things to do, but it was really more of a stopover for us. We arrived around 9 pm and didn’t get to our vacation rental until around 9:30, so we were just wanting to find a place quickly to grab a bite, then hit the sack.

Right under the apartment we were renting for the night was an unassuming souvlaki joint called Simply Homemade. We stumbled in, tired from our travels, the only people in the building besides a small gathering for a children’s birthday party. We ordered a few souvlaki pitas and were absolutely stunned by how delicious the meat was. I have never had a more tender, succulent piece of pork. After a few pitas each and a couple of beers, we considered our one night stay in Heraklion worthwhile for that meal alone. Every place we visited after that had the unfortunate challenge of being compared to Simply Homemade, and none of them lived up to the standard. The tragedy is Simply Homemade seems to be closed after the pandemic. We’ll just have to start a new search for superior souvlaki, though I still salivate when I revisit that memory.

Best Overall

Food is subjective, and many factors affect the taste beyond the ingredients and cooking methods that comprise a dish. The dish a meal is served on, the ambiance, the people it’s enjoyed with, the temperature outside… all of these contribute to our memories of any given meal. I believe a lot of places in the world eat better quality produce than we typically enjoy from US supermarkets, and while that affects the quality of the meals we eat when we’re abroad, I imagine the environment affects it just as much. I recognize our favorite souvlaki and gyro pitas revolve around memories we had, and those may not be replicated for people that try to try them later, but we still believe they’re fantastic meals. My wife loved the souvlaki we had in Greece, and her favorite was undoubtably the souvlaki pita at Simply Homemade. All the components were delicious, but that stellar meat put it right at the top of her list.

I favored a little joint in Rethymno (or Rethymnon, or Rethimno – having multiple spellings of places is common in Greece), Crete called Sarlo. No single component of the pork gyro pita stood out as being phenomenal, but the product they comprised was perfect. We sat outside at a small table for two, facing the stone street, just talking and people watching. My wife had an Alfa Weiss beer and I was drinking a bottle of Retsina, a resinated regional wine that I had grabbed by accident, thinking it was a beer. The Retsina tasted more like pine than I had anticipated, but I embraced it as a part of the culture and that moment. We watched tourists pour into the Venetian harborside from a cruise ship, and a couple hours later watched them rush back to the ship. We reflected on our preferred method of traveling, enjoying those lax moments that come with planning our own itinerary. I can’t explain it all, but when I think about that gyro, I reflect on the memories that accompanied each bite and I’m not ashamed to admit I may be a little biased in my review.

More to Greece

We really made the most out of our tight budget in Greece, and we ate a lot more food than just gyros. It’s an amazing country with a ton of options for travelers on any budget. We explored iconic dished like fava, moussaka, braised vegetable dishes, Cretan lamb, snails, and more. Check out our article on Greek food and consider planning a trip there to learn for yourself why it’s so highly regarded in the culinary world. When you plan your trip, consider spending time away from the Greek isles and exploring other amazing destinations in Greece.

Have you had gyros or souvlaki in Greece? Where were your favorite pita joints? Share with us down in the comments – we love to hear about your adventures.

Picture of Alex Miller

Alex Miller

Travel is my passion, though I don't consider myself a typical tourist. I love planning my own trips and enjoy traveling at a pace where I can see a bunch of new things, but also relax and soak in the culture. I always try to get lost on a trip and enjoy veering away from the common paths. My other primary passion is food and while I'm not a chef, I enjoy cooking and exploring the local cuisines around the world. My favorite drink is a Manhattan and my top bucket list item is to sail the Mediterranean Sea.

Table of Contents

This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, read our privacy policy.

Recent Posts