The leafy block of Broadway Street between Jefferson and Main is one of the liveliest streets in downtown Redwood City. Summer evenings on this little stretch are delightfully energetic, with jam-packed bars and bustling sidewalk tables in front of restaurants showcasing a large swath of the world's cuisine: Korean, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese and so on. Nick the Greek sits at the center of the international action.
With a huge window opening to the sidewalk, this bright little souvlaki and gyro house is part of a rapidly expanding chain that launched in 2014 in San Jose. There are 10 Nick the Greeks from Santa Cruz to San Carlos, most of which are owned by the founding trio of cousins. They recently started franchising.
Nick the Greek's backstory reads like something a scriptwriter might come up with: three first-generation cousins, each with exactly the same name -- Nick Tsigaris -- leverage their families' collective restaurant experience and set out to prove wrong a naysayer business professor who didn't get the whole street food trend. A successful business ensues. American dream realized. Let's call it "Three Cousins and a Big Fat Restaurant Chain" or maybe "My Three Nicks."
"Big Nick," "Little Nick" and "Baby Nick" are riding the fast-casual wave, offering a small but well-curated menu of fairly priced Greek standards in a friendly environment. A Mediterranean blue palette, cute logo and an order-at-the-counter setup give the place a decidedly corporate, cookie-cutter feel, but that's exactly what they're going for: Greek street food tweaked a little for California palates and served with American-style efficiency that can be easily replicated in each location.
The menu is pretty much what you would expect: gyros, salads, souvlaki plates, pitas, hummus and, of course, "bowls," because any self-respecting fast-casual joint has to have a bowl option these days. I'm not complaining. I love the bowl trend and happily dug into one of Nick the Greek's with tender, nicely seasoned grilled chicken, basmati rice, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta, topped with tzatziki and a yogurt sauce ($9.50). A little red wine vinaigrette added zing. It was a substantial lunch.
I was much less happy with Nick the Greek's limp, lukewarm and utterly uninteresting French fries ($3.50 for a side; $5.95 for "Greek fries" with chunks of garlic, feta crumbles and the same yogurt sauce that was drizzled atop the bowl). I ordered fries on each of my three visits, primarily because it is so easy to give into the combo upsell (order a main dish and for $3 more you can tack on a drink and fries or a small salad). The thin, sad fries were lackluster every time.
I was also unimpressed by a chicken souvlaki plate ($13.25). The chicken was nicely seasoned, but instead of the grilled cubes that were promised by the menu, we received a pile of scrappy bits. On the other hand, the Grecian beef-teki burger ($9.50) was fantastic. Beef-teki is Greek meatloaf seasoned heavily with oregano, garlic and other spices. Here it is served hamburger-style on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomato, onions and feta. It was a flavorful alternative to a traditional hamburger.
The beef/lamb gyro ($9.50) was another meaty winner. A huge pile of well-seasoned beef and lamb was enveloped by a pillow-soft pita, along with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and a few French fries stuffed in for good measure. My gyro was tasty, but a little bland for my palate, so I enlivened it with some Sriracha, a decidedly nontraditional but smart condiment offering. Interestingly, even though I didn't like Nick the Greek's fries as a stand-alone item, they are a great addition to the gyros. The kitchen just needs to include more than four or five of them.
Avgolemono ($5.50) is a classic chicken soup thickened with egg yolk and made tangy by lemon juice. Nick the Greek's version is made with orzo rather than the rice I expected — a nice riff on the traditional recipe.
A simple side of hummus with pita bread ($5.95) was elevated from boring to noteworthy by one simple detail: the pita triangles were deliciously grilled.
The loukoumades ($5.95) didn't quite measure up to the fried pieces of heaven I've encountered at the Belmont Greek festival, but it is hard to go wrong with Greece's version of donut holes, bathed in a honey syrup and topped with walnut pieces.
Nick the Greek offers exactly what one would expect from a fast-casual restaurant. Prices are fair, service is friendly and the food is a little hit and miss, but there's clearly local demand for budget-friendly Greek fare. Nick the Greek is helping to fill the niche with its bright little eatery on a fun Redwood City street.
Email Monica Schreiber at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick the Greek
2014 Broadway St., Redwood City
Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit cards: Yes
Outdoor seating: Yes
Parking: Street/public garage
Noise level: Quiet to moderate