Photo by Tenaya HillsAfter a couple of visits to the Whole Pita Greek Island Grille, you'll ask the question regulars ask: Where's the fotia?
“Fotia” is Greek for fire. It's also the name the owners of Whole Pita have given their hot sauce. Emerald-green in color, with a relishy consistency, the fotia stings with a garlic surge and pepper flank. It bests the salsas of most Orange County Mexican restaurants—but doesn't overwhelm whatever it slathers. And it's gone by lunch time—they prepare only enough daily to fill one plastic bottle.
Thankfully, there is an archipelago of other reasons to visit the Whole Pita, a charm of an eatery lost amongst the beauty salons of a South Coast Metro shopping plaza. Ordering happens at the counter, where customers read off a posted menu for the regular entrées or glance at a chalkboard for the daily specials. Once the transaction is complete, the cashier gives you a plastic number, which looks suspiciously like those red-and-white triangles used by Carl's Jr. next door. This is how they know where you sit. Although the Whole Pita stands next to a communal food court, eat inside even if the day is balmy—inside where you can admire gorgeous village and seaside murals surrounding faux artifacts and a flat-screen television that usually broadcasts sports.
The Whole Pita's menu is simple—variations on gyros and salads, universal Mediterranean appetizers such as hummus and olives. But from this predictability emerges some of the finest Greek cuisine since the dearly departed Café Plaka.
Their eponymous pita is different from those enjoyed at Middle Eastern restaurants—puffy, dusted with a sweet powder, toasted but not grilled. It is the base for gyros that contain vinaigrette-showered roughage and your choice of meat or meat replicate—hunks of marinated souvlaki sweating with a dab of red wine, surprisingly crisp falafels, or wonderfully pungent shrimp whose marine essence causes your lips to pucker. Fusing the gyro's contents is a potent, chilly tzatziki sauce that unfortunately smells rather raunchy. Most of the pitas set you back $5, but slam down three bucks more and buy the combo—the pita plus your choice of two Parthenon-sized sides, everything from garlic-cooked fries to a bracing Greek salad doused in avgolemono sauce.
The Whole Pita also prepares great casseroles—eggplant-and-potato-studded moussaka that is quite possibly the starchiest thing ever. There's also a pasticcio—pasta, feta, ground beef—flavored with nutmeg. It's Italian in heartiness and Hellenic in saltiness. Remember to squirt in some fotia, but drink lots of water afterward—fire!
THE WHOLE PITA GREEK ISLAND GRILLE, 3940 S. BRISTOL ST., STE. 113, SANTA ANA, (714) 708-3000.