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Olympia Cafe: All Greek, all good
Friday, 14 January 2011
Photos by Wes Naman
Locally revered Greek anchor maintains a vast array of delicious dishes

By Cristina Olds
A familiar destination in the UNM area since 1987, the Olympia Cafe has survived and thrived in Albuquerque’s rough restaurant scene for good reason — the food is delicious.

Finding parking can be dodgy, the ambience is that of a diner (think Frontier-gone-Greek) and platter prices aren’t the cheapest in the university area — although there are many thrifty options still available. Challenges aside, people love Olympia Cafe.
I’ve enjoyed the Grecian chicken (1/2 chicken, $10.75; 1/4 chicken, $7.75) with rice pilaf or roast potatoes and Greek salad for the past 20 years, and it remains consistently scrumptious. 

On a recent visit I chatted with Olympia Cafe owner/manager Charlie Akkad about the history of the restaurant. He and his partners bought the Olympia two years ago, and he said the previous owners stayed around for 14 months to teach recipes and help with the transition. Some regulars may not even have noticed.

The menu of traditional favorites is vast. For starters, my dining companion and I enjoyed the tzatziki (yogurt mixed with cucumbers and garlic, $5.85) and hummus (a creamy dip made of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice, $4.75). Both are served with warm triangles of pita bread, and the tzatziki plate also includes dolmathes (rice and herbs wrapped in a tender, earthy grapevine leaf), calamata olives and pepperonici.

When I traveled in Greece with college cronies a while back, we couldn’t get enough of the creamy tzatziki sauce. We questioned the charming Greeks about the ingredients so we could make our own back home, and the refreshingly tangy dip remains a favorite of mine, especially Olympia Cafe’s version. The hummus at Olympia isn’t as creamy as some Middle Eastern versions, but I favor complex textures and this dip fit the bill. The generous piles of mildly spicy pepperonicis and olives added a pickled option to the appetizer plate, and the small dolmathes were a delight.

ImageGreek favorites spanikopita and tiropita ($2.75/each) were a pleasure: These little filo dough pies arrived warm and melting and bursting with salty feta cheese. The spinach in the spanikopita added a dense texture and the additional cheeses and dill in the tiropita oozed with flavor.

For our main course we ordered the souvlaki platter with chicken, roasted potatoes and Greek salad ($10.95). The chicken was spiced and cooked to perfection, albeit on the greasy side, and the potatoes were crusty on the outside, soft inside. The side salad of romaine lettuce and feta with cucumber and tomato bits overflowed the small bowl.

My companion insisted we sample the lamb souvlaki on a stick ($4.95), and although I’m not a fan of lamb, the dark meaty chunks were rich and not gamey at all. Served on a grilled slice of French bread to soak up the drippings, the meat on a stick options (beef and chicken are also available) would be a satisfying and affordable lunch with a small side salad.

For dessert we tried the galatoboureko (custard pie, $2.75). The large serving of custard was denser than flan and almost cakey in consistency, under a filo dough topping and a sugary syrup.

I’m becoming a bit of a rice pudding connoisseur and must recommend the rizogalo ($2.35). Simple, delicately sweet al dente arborio rice with a garnish of cinnamon provides a fine finish to an authentic, lip-smacking Greek sampler.

Olympia Cafe
2210 Central SE, 505.266.5222
11a-10p, Mon.-Fri.;  Noon-10p, Sat.; Closed Sun.
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