Lunch $10 and Under at Athenian Express
The owners at Athenian Express are no fools for including, "the little Greek place," on their restaurant sign, because that's usually how most of the restaurant's loyal followers refer to it when telling a friend or co-worker about this tasty and budget-friendly spot.
Located on Central just south of Roosevelt, Athenian Express feels like the restaurant that could. There's nothing too fancy about the interior, just a plentiful number of simple table and chairs and if you're lucky and the weather permits, nabbing one of the outdoor tables is a treat.
Inside there are lots of reminders of Greek heritage: Ouzo bottles on display, the Greek flag, the blue and white painting scheme. There are also a number of shout-outs to the owner's Chicago roots in Cubs and Bears memorabilia.
But on to what really makes this place special ... the food.
Keeping to a $10 budget is pretty easy to do here since no item on the menu is priced above $7.45. The hard part is choosing. The menu is robust and can be overwhelming to a newbie, but if you come during the lunch rush there is almost always a line to order so you'll have a little time to decide.
We've tried many of the items here including the steak sub, Athenian burger, chicken pita and the meatball sub, just to name a few. And on a side note, the fries are wickedly good, so good in fact that you have to give yourself a pep talk when walking up to order that you're going to be good and get a salad or fruit.
This time we went with a favorite item on the menu, the Athenian Salad with a charbroiled chicken breast. The dish is simple, just cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, peperoncinis, onions, Kalamata olives, chicken, a generous serving of feta cheese and Greek dressing on the side and served with a pita, but it's a huge portion and it's the kind of meal that you crave.
Our friend chose the $6.45 gyro feta pita with a side of fruit. The gyro meat was succulent and flavorful. We also split an order of hummus, $3.55, which is served with a few vegetables and a pita. The hummus is pretty good as far as hummus goes, but sometimes it can be a little too peppery for our taste, but on the day we ordered it wasn't too bad.
The service is friendly and fast. You are pretty much guaranteed to have the same smiling faces taking your order and bringing out your food. They also deliver to the downtown Phoenix area, which is nice if you're stuck in the office.