In the corner of Long Beach’s airport-adjacent California Heights neighborhood this past July, a small restaurant promising to serve authentic Greek food (it says so right on the sign) opened its doors alongside a sushi place and a doughnut shop.
Pita Pitaki is a clean, bright little store, with less than a dozen tables, each of which is topped with fresh potted herbs: basil on one, thyme on another, etc. You order at the counter, grab a self-serve soda, then take a seat.
The menu is larger than expected for an eatery of this size, and the meat-laden spits holding seasoned masses of lamb, pork and chicken are clearly visible. Yet the offerings are vegetable-heavy. There’s a brightly marked vegetarian section, as well as half a dozen homemade dip choices, including melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant with yogurt) and skordalia (described as “garlic and more garlic”), each served with pita.
The falafels come three to an order as flattened, clementine-sized rounds, weighted heavily with mashed chickpeas, fresh herbs and plenty of spices, then perfectly fried to a golden crunch. The vegan appetizer is plated with a handful of sliced red onions and red bell peppers, plus a dish of paprika-dusted hummus, which admittedly was pretty ignored, as the falafels’ interior was soft enough to not need any accompaniment.
The honey feta appetizer was as much cheese or dessert course as a starter: An entire brick of salty feta is wrapped in phyllo dough, fried crisp, then drizzled with honey and a heavy sprinkling of black sesame seeds. It’s salty, creamy, sweet, crunchy—and hits all the marks.
Listed under Pitaki Specials (and also dubbed “vegetarian’s choice!”) is the gemista plate, a duo of roasted-vegetables—one large tomato and one near-equal-sized green bell pepper—charred until soft, cored and stuffed with fragrant Greek-herb-seasoned rice. Artfully arranged, this hot plate also comes with a pair of oven-roasted potato spears; a soft, freshly toasted slice of bread; plus a thin rectangle of feta finished with a quick swipe of olive oil.
The entrées are categorized by meat (lamb, chicken, pork, and steak and seafood), and each plate comes with your choice of starch (potatoes, fries, rice), plus salad and pita bread. But it’s the gyro that remains a steadfast indicator of any Greek (or Mediterranean) restaurant’s chops. And at Pita Pitaki, it is delicious. The chicken gyro plate eats like a multi-course meal, with all components carefully placed on a single square platter. A generous helping of thinly sliced, crispy-edged, well-seasoned chicken (dark and white meat) sits atop a mound of lightly dressed Greek salad, a colorful vegetable skewer and a stack of warm, soft pita triangles, plus a small cup of tzatziki (a perfectly cool and tangy condiment—ask for extra).
Everything here feels home-cooked. While other Greek restaurants may rely on previously frozen, uniform menu items, I doubt that’s the process here. When Pita Pitaki promises authentic Greek cuisine, it delivers.
Avoid my mistake and save room for the baklava, which looked perfectly decadent in neatly arranged rows by the register. The galaktoboureko, a custard wrapped in phyllo, also looked tempting, but sadly, I was at capacity—which means I’ll have to head back to Pita Pitaki soon.
Pita Pitaki, 3401 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 424-0446.