Perfectly Simple
Ethnic encomiums are the watchword this week. So let us now sing the praises of Niko-Niko's, the odd little Greek joint located in a former gas station on Montrose that is, mirabile dictu, one of the few multiple-winners of Marvin Zindler's Blue Ribbon award for cleanliness. And that's no accident: Ever since immigrants Chris and Eleni Fetokakis opened their little sandwich shop in 1977, they've exhibited rigorous standards, not to mention considerable ambition.

Since the days when it was little more than a takeout window, Niko-Niko's has served what is arguably the city's best gyros sandwich ($4.75). As the amphora-size cylinder of chopped and blended spiced lamb and beef, bigger around than a stack of five hefty pot roasts, twirls slowly, perpendicular to the heat, the proprietors shave off dollar-bill-length bits from the browned exterior and slap them on a gorgeously fresh pita. Then they add fresh tomato, slices of mild onion and the best tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber shreds and garlic) sauce to be found anywhere in Houston. Finish with your choice of nicely crisped French fries, some spicy oven-roasted potatoes or some rice, and you have simple perfection.

The souvlaki sandwich ($5.25) and chicken kabob ($5.50) are essentially the same thing, with chunks of lean beef or white-meat chicken cooked on skewers standing in for the gyros combo.

Over the years the family has expanded the operation, increasing the seating to almost 80 by closing in what was once a kind of house-that-Jack-built verandah and adding extra dishes to the menu. Some items are not as spectacular as the sandwiches, but there isn't a real loser in the lot. The fried shrimp ($7.20) are as light and crisp as any found in high-tone restaurants, and the large Greek salad ($5.75) is lively with lemon, fresh-cracked pepper, mint and pungent crumbled feta cheese; a smaller version accompanies many of the entrees and the off-the-menu items -- often fresh fish -- that can be found listed near the window where you order. These are always worth a try.

Finish with one of the Greek sweets ($2) that give dessert a good name: baklava, of course, and Eleni Fetokakis's favorite, the homemade galatoboureko, a custard pudding topped with a mere wisp of phyllo and finished with a meltingly sweet honey syrup. Simple food doesn't get much better than this.

-- Joanne Harrison

Niko-Niko's, 2520 Montrose, 528-1308.


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