Internet commenters have descended on the food industry like a plague of picky locusts, perplexing chefs and rewriting the rules of restaurant criticism. And out of all DFW's dining options, the picky horde has decided that a tiny, unassuming gyro joint on the far side of Mesquite is, with a 4.9-star Google and Yelp average rating, the best restaurant in all of Dallas.
Madness, you might say — a sign of the commentariat’s bizarre values. But a stopped clock is right twice a day, and even a blind squirrel finds a nut. This time, the Yelpers have a point. No, House of Gyros is not the best restaurant in Dallas. But it is a very special place.
Many restaurants proclaim some variation of the “when you’re here, you’re family” cliché. But at House of Gyros, you can’t help thinking the cliché is the truth. Opened in 2014, the House is run by the Kaprantzas family, with Victoria waiting tables and Vasili (“Bill”) in the kitchen. Chef Bill might visit after your meal to ask, “How did I do?” Then he might tell you about how he came to America decades ago, on a boat.
The restaurant is tiny but decorated with reminders of his homeland. Some signage is in Greek. There’s a poster-sized photograph of the chef’s grandmother. “She’s looking at me every day so I don’t make a mistake,” he says. Remember when My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a thing? It still is at House of Gyros, which has a bottle of Windex framed in a case.
The open kitchen is surrounded by a huge number of chalkboards which don’t list daily specials. The Kaprantzas clan just likes to share their thoughts. One board proclaims House of Gyros’s field of expertise: “People ask if I know lamb! Well let me tell you! I was born with lamb, I was raised with lamb, I even look like a lamb.” Another declares, in creative spelling, that “Mikrowave oven is forbiten in this restaurant. We prepaire all our food fresh to order.” And there are more such pronouncements on the menu itself, including a memorable rant about how American chefs cook lamb chops.
The food, of course, is the real test of whether a restaurant like this really feels like family. But that concern was put to rest with one bite of the lamb souvlaki ($14), grilled and served on skewers. Their lamb seasoning, with big hits of parsley and salt, tastes just the way my Turkish family makes theirs — a cliché but the truth nonetheless. And like my own, the House of Gyros family prefers lamb cooked medium-well but still richly juicy.
The rest of the menu is mostly hits with few misses. A meatball and rice soup makes a charming appetizer, especially since it’s free with your meal. Pita bread is toasty and fresh; top it with feta cheese ($2), a bargain side dish well mixed with parsley. Moussaka ($11) and pastitsio (a lasagna with cinnamon and nutmeg) are generous, gut-busting helpings of some of the world’s ultimate comfort foods. These may not be glamorous dishes, but House of Gyros gets them right.
The calamari ($8) is among the best in Dallas, with a firm golden breading crust, no grease and flawless cooking technique. You might be able to convince impressionable children that they’re mozzarella stick rings. Order calamari with skordalia, an ultra-strong raw garlic dip that hits like lightning.
Odd as it sounds, the steak fries are pretty great, too. Crisp and well seasoned with salt, pepper and parsley, the fries are the happiest surprise on the menu, especially since they’re also tucked inside the traditional gyros wrap ($8). That pita wrap is generous to bursting, a classic version with juicy beef-lamb gyro meat. Should you add feta cheese? Of course.
One more bonus feature at House of Gyros: the very reasonable BYOB policy. We brought a Greek wine but forgot our corkscrew and were charged corkage of just $1 per person.
Not everything in this house is perfect. Hummus is pretty ordinary. Greek salad is a side dish with nearly every meal, and it’s good but suffers from pink-white out-of-season tomatoes. Some friendly advice from a Mediterranean neighbor: Switch to Campari tomatoes in winter months. It’s worth the extra buck.
As you prepare to order dessert, the server may caution you that you'll receive an order of loukoumades free with your meal. Loukoumades is Greek for, “a delicious cross between sopapillas and doughnut holes.” These light pastry puffs are fried and dipped in honey, cinnamon and powdered sugar, a combination rightly beloved on every continent.
The baklava, though, is a sweeter, heavier interpretation that’s almost too rich for my palate. A subtler alternative is kataifi ($3.50), which features shredded pastry shaped in a roll and sprinkled with cinnamon.
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Environmentalists might feel lingering guilt about House of Gyros’ habit of serving everything on Styrofoam plates with plastic forks. Make sure to specify tap water, too, or you’ll be charged for Ozarka. But the restaurant’s only real weakness is the long trek required to get there.
For the moment, House of Gyros is far enough off the beaten path that its tiny space doesn’t get too crowded. That may be changing. One waitress asked the next table, “How did you find out about us?” The answer: Yelp. And, indeed, the restaurant is DFW’s reigning champion in Yelp and Google reviews, with Dude, Sweet Chocolate and a couple taquerias close behind.
Of course, there’s Yelper bias at work there. The site’s commenters favor charming mom-and-pop places over “elitist” fine dining. But this time we’re following the crowd. There’s a special feeling about House of Gyros, a little place where the Greek comfort food classics are at their best, where Windex still has healing powers and after one visit, diners really might feel like part of the family.
House of Gyros, 904 E Davis St., Mesquite, 469-802-9797. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.