There are some strip malls and shopping centers in Phoenix that have a consistent ethnic identity defined by shops and restaurants focused wholly on one nation. There are others that represent a sort of mosaic of different nationalities. Across from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Midtown, it’s the latter approach with small establishments offering their versions of Mexican, Japanese, and American cooking. Another tenant, Mika’s Greek, adds to the variety by offering popular foods influenced by the traditions of Greece and nearby Mediterranean countries.
Mika’s, which is sometimes also identified as “Elli’s Greek,” should not be confused with Mika’s Kitchen, an Israeli restaurant two miles to the north. It’s part of a modest retail plaza on the south side of Thomas Road, about five blocks west of the Thomas/Central light rail station. Despite the proximity of existing bike lanes and the city’s current work to extend the two-way cycle track on Third Avenue through the Willo neighborhood, this strip mall still has no bike rack, so anyone who rides to eat here will have to make due with various signposts in the parking lot.
The restaurant has some basic thematic decor in the form of large posters of typical Greek tourist attractions. Otherwise the dining room is fairly plain with some faux brick on the walls that lead to a counter in the back where orders are placed. Two small and somewhat rickety tables are found outside the front door, providing limited space for outdoor dining. Mika’s Greek operates as a counter service establishment with customers ordering from the overhead menus, paying for their meals at the counter, and then waiting for their food to be brought to the table.
Mika’s quick service approach leads to a menu with four basic categories: plates, pita wraps, salad, and fries with toppings. These items can be built with various protein sources: strips of gyros, grilled chicken, skewers of chicken souvlaki, and patties described as beef souvlaki but more similar in taste and texture to kofta, a ground meat dish common on Middle Eastern menus. Meatless options include crisp, oblate balls of falafel and vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. The former is the better option; the rice in the dolmas seemed mushy when sampled.
The plates come in both small and large sizes. The small will satiate most appetites. The chosen meat or meatless entree is paired with pita bread and a side such as yellow rice, a basic Greek salad, fries, or a serving of lentil soup. A sauce is also provided, and choices include a basic tzatziki or a tangier version of the same Greek staple. The gyros, sliced from a cone visible in the open kitchen, are dependably good, as are the souvlaki. Likewise, the pitas, served here as flat discs rather than the Middle Eastern version with open pockets, are reliable.
The sandwiches are offered in five styles, beginning with an original version with red onion, tomato, and tzatziki. A Mediterranean variation is made similar to Israeli sandwiches with the addition of pickles and hummus. The Picado wrap adds a bit of spice with jalapeños and green pepper while the Diablo goes to a slightly higher level of intensity with the addition of feta and sriracha. The Caesar wrap is as it sounds, with romaine, parmesan, and creamy dressing inside the rolled pita with the chosen filling. As with the plates, a choice of side dishes is available.
The same Caesar salad is available as an entree with the option to add any of the proteins on top of the lettuce, as is a traditional Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta over greens. The Village salad is an even more substantial option with chickpeas adding protein and heft to the dish. Tabouleh is a salad more often associated with Lebanon and Syria than Greece, but Mika’s version is an effective one with grains of bulgur wheat tossed with minced parsley, chopped onions, and chopped tomatoes, and coated in a tart lemon yogurt dressing.
The final category of meals is Greek fries with a variety of toppings. The fries at Mika’s are unremarkable on their own, which may explain the appeal of covering them with other ingredients in a Mediterranean variant of poutine.The basic Mika’s namesake fries are accessorized with feta cheese, house dressing, and tzatziki. The Zeus version is the most spicy and rich in umami with toppings of grilled onions ,jalapeño, green pepper, tangy tzatziki, and feta. Like the salads, the fries can then be topped with a protein choice for an added charge.
Mika’s offers two dessert options from a small display case at the counter. As expected, there’s baklava. It’s serviceable if a little dry. The stronger choice is something described as chocolate sticks, but that name does a disservice to the dish. The dessert is actually a pair of cylindrical pastry with taste and texture similar to baklava and a drizzle of chocolate sauce on top. Drinks are limited to bottled sodas and water that are kept refrigerated near the counter. There’s no liquor license to provide an option to drink shots of retsina or glasses of Greek wine or beer.
That decision makes sense due to Mika’s role as a lunchtime destination with a substantial volume of takeout and catering business fueled by daytime populations at Midtown office buildings and healthcare facilities across the street along Thomas Road. Still, Mika’s fits in as part of a diverse set of restaurant offerings for both nearby commercial districts and the Willo historic district immediately to its south. The choices in this strip mall seem to change every few years, but a quick service Greek restaurant seems a worthwhile option for as long as it lasts.
503 W. Thomas Rd., Phoenix AZ 85013