Kebabs a-plenty. Photo by John Gilhooley
Kebabs a-plenty. Photo by John Gilhooley

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

ATHENS WEST, an Orange County-only mini-chain with gleaming outposts in Huntington Beach and Seal Beach, prepares pita sandwiches fat with meat—juicy steak, crispy calamari and chicken, and gyro shavings so dense they could absorb light. The meats are also available as platters with buttery orzo pasta, cool tzatziki sauce and Greek salad heavy on the onions. There's a flaky spanakopita spinach pie and a tart avgolemono egg lemon soup.

But you can find those meals at any Hellenic eatery. You're visiting Athens West for their fries.

Sure, many Greek restaurants offer French fries on their menu, but few treat them with the care you find at both Athens West locations. They fry long, skinny potato strips until golden and firm, dust them heroically with—is it parsley I taste? Or oregano? Regardless, dunk them in the accompanying tzatziki sauce. Great so far.

But Athens West takes its fries one step further with the feta fries—a kind of Greek nachos. The feta cheese melts slightly, just enough to lend creaminess without producing a gooey disaster. You could pour ketchup on the fries, but try lemon juice instead. French fries are a notoriously heavy affair—they seem to sit in the belly, and not always in a good way. But these fries are altogether lighter, almost delicate on the tongue. Put some kebabs on top, and you have impromptu Greek chili billies.

You shouldn't think twice about this multiculturalism, this union of the Old and New Worlds. Greek-Americans run many of the county's remaining independent burger stands and diners, as evidenced by the gyros and Greek salads on their menus. This legacy takes the next logical step at Athens West: when I ate at the Seal Beach location a couple of weeks back, a pretty white girl worked the cash register alongside a Latino. The gabacha took my order; the Latino shouted it in Spanish to the Latina in the open kitchen. As my shrimp-and-scallop kebab combo spun on the grill, the two Latinos taught their co-worker the Spanish words for dog (perro) and pet (casero). Then they discussed Seal Beach politics. A Shakira song played lightly from the speakers. The gabacha silently shook her shoulders. I forked into my final feta fries, drowned in Tabasco. God bless America.

ATHENS WEST, 7101 YORKTOWN AVE., STE. 106, HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 536-6112; 303 MAIN ST., SEAL BEACH, (562) 431-6500. OPENS DAILY AT 11 A.M.


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