Souvla is a force in San Francisco. There are four locations spread throughout the city, and each overflows with diners eager to dig into its “fast-fine” Greek cuisine.
At the original Hayes Valley location we settle into a line of customers. The wait gives us time to scout out a spot. You cannot drink on the pretty outside patio, so if you’re having a bottle of Blue Mak Greek lager or chilled rosé, choose an inside table. We settle at a copper-topped one with a view of the spits, which are currently skewering huge rounds of pork. This is fitting, since “souvla” means “spit” or “skewer” in Greek.
The line goes fast, and the food comes out quickly after that. The blue-rimmed tin dishes are charming, and even the napkins are a step up from average. A water station with refillable bottles keeps diners hydrated.
You can choose pork, chicken, lamb, or veggie for a protein, presented in a warm pita or salad. Chicken salad features huge chunks of shredded Mary’s free-range chicken with butter lettuce and kale, thinly-sliced fennel, slivers of navel oranges, pea shoots, Mizithra cheese, and pickled red onions. Its “Granch” dressing is creamy but not too heavy. I spy a bottle of Souvla hot sauce and add some every few bites. It’s light and vinegary, and balances nicely with the creamy dressing. You can get the salad “Greek-style,” with fries on top, which is, of course, great. The fries are cooked in olive oil and served with lemon juice, parsley, and a touch of Mizithra. I could eat this and be good to go.
But I have to have the sandwich. Like a gyro, but not quite, pork is the highlight. It’s tender and juicy, which is unsurprising given the skewers on display. The rest of the sandwich, with minted Greek yogurt, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, and pickled red onion, falls a bit flat. The flavor and balance that make the salad so satisfying don’t quite make it into the sandwich.
“Juicy potatoes,” which soak up “all the rotisserie drippings,” come topped with oregano. Some may find the unctuous texture off-putting, but I say they are absolutely delicious. I fish for spare pita to dip in the leftover drippings.
Frozen Greek yogurt is creamy and tangy, served with your choice of olive oil and sea salt (my favorite), honey, sour cherry syrup, or baklava. All are served in a Souvla version of the classic New York cup, on the side of which is Souvla’s motto: “Make it nice and be nice.”