Local Spotlight

Niko Niko's on Market Square Is the Next Chapter In a Restaurant's Long, Storied History

Back in 2001, Wendy Grossman wrote "Elbow Greece," a feature for the Houston Press on the long and fascinating history of what was -- at that time -- already a stalwart Houston favorite: Niko Niko's.

Eleni Fetokakis runs her Greek-American cafe, Niko Niko's, with a German work ethic. She tells employees if they want to relax, go home. She says she isn't running a school, she's running a restaurant, and she doesn't have time to teach everyone how to do everything every day. If someone isn't doing something right, she follows behind giving orders and corrections.

This is nothing new. She's operated like this since the beginning. "She was a tyrant," remembers her 28-year-old son, Dimitrios Fetokakis. She fired him almost every day (until he bought the place).

Ten years later, Dimitri is still running a tight ship at the original and now greatly expanded Niko Niko's on Montrose, as well as its first and (so far) only satellite location in downtown's Market Square Park. You can see him there many days of the week -- the bear-like man is kind of difficult to miss. He's there so often, in fact, that he's earned the nickname "Mayor of Market Square."

It's this second location of an old favorite that's the subject of this week's cafe review. And although many things are familiar about the Market Square Niko Niko's -- the fluffy pita, the tangy tzatiki sauce, the savory lamb and the heavenly, lemon-scented oven potatoes -- just as many things are vibrantly and wonderfully new.

Convenient (and conveniently priced) box lunches for office workers during the day give way to a startlingly romantic feel at night, with candles in old-fashioned red glass tumblers on each of the tables and a view of downtown's tall quiver of lights just past a quietly bubbling fountain.

Breakfasts in the park, too, are refreshingly lovely and not at all crowded -- yet. In fact, a stunning duo of breakfast pitas is what drew me to Niko Niko's in the first place, and what made me fall quickly in love with this everything-old-is-new-again slice of downtown.

It's a perfect partnership to revitalize this part of the city: Market Square and Niko Niko's are both survivors in a city where, as we pointed out only yesterday, short lifespans are the norm and history is quickly buried and forgotten.

For more photos from Niko Niko's (and for a look inside the small and efficient kitchen), check out our slideshow.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt