Greek Restaurants in the United States
Greek cuisine is one of the most beloved food cultures in the world, known for its hearty meals, Mediterranean flavors, and ample use of olive oil, feta cheese, and grilled meats. Greek restaurants in the United States have been serving mouth-watering dishes such as moussaka, gyros, souvlaki, and spanakopita for over a century, captivating foodies and tourists alike. But how did Greek food make its way to the land of burgers and fries? In this article, we’ll explore the history of Greek restaurants in the US and how they evolved to become a staple in American cuisine.
First Greek Immigrants 1860’s
The first Greek immigrants arrived in America in the 1860s, seeking better economic opportunities than what their war-torn homeland could provide. Most of them settled in urban areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Boston, where they formed tight-knit communities and opened small businesses to support themselves. Some of these businesses were restaurants, serving traditional Greek dishes to fellow immigrants and curious Americans. At the time, Greek cuisine was relatively unknown in America, but the newcomers were determined to showcase their culinary skills and introduce their culture to the masses.
Dinners “Coffee Shops”
The Greek diners, or “coffee shops,” as they were called back then, quickly gained popularity among working-class Americans who appreciated the affordable prices, 24/7 service, and generous portions. The menu items were simple yet satisfying, such as eggs with bacon, sandwiches, and pies. But as the Greek communities grew, so did the demand for more authentic dishes that reminded them of home. Greek restaurants started to introduce traditional foods such as grilled meats, seafood, and desserts. By the 1930s, Greek-American cuisine had become a distinct category in the restaurant industry.
Invention of The Gyro
One of the most significant contributions of Greek restaurants to American cuisine is the invention of the “gyro,” a dish that has become a fast-food staple all around the world. The gyro, or “gyros,” as the Greeks call it, is a roasted meat sandwich made with lamb, chicken, or pork, wrapped in pita bread and topped with onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce. The first gyro sandwiches were served in the early 1920s in Chicago, where Greek restaurants were experimenting with new ways of serving meat. The gyro gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s, as fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Jack in the Box started to offer their versions of the dish.
How to pronounce gyros? Most commonly, it is pronounced “YEE-ros” although there are many variations around the world.
Greek restaurants continued to evolve in the following decades, adapting to the changing tastes and trends of American consumers. Some Greek chefs started to incorporate fusion elements into their dishes, mixing Greek and American flavors for unique creations like Greek-style burgers, Greek pizza, and Greek salads with ranch dressing. Greek restaurants also became known for their lively atmosphere, featuring live music, dancing, and plate smashing as entertainment for the diners.
Today’s Greek Restaurants
Today, Greek restaurants are an integral part of the American culinary landscape, serving millions of customers each year across the country. Greeks have gone beyond the traditional dine-in restaurants, as many established family-owned stores have expanded their menu offerings to include rows of shelves filled with imported ingredients, such as olive oil, dried herbs, and cheeses. Greek fast food chains, such as The Great Greek Mediterranean Grill and Crazy Greek, also pop up nationwide as people become more and more familiar with healthy and tasty food.
Greek restaurants in the United States have come a long way, from humble coffee shops to mainstream franchises and gourmet destinations. They have contributed not only to American cuisine but also to America’s cultural diversity, bringing the flavors and hospitality of Greece to millions of people. So the next time you’re thinking of trying out new food or craving your favorite gyros, find yourself a Greek restaurant and taste some real Greek cuisine. Kali Orexi! (Bon Appétit!)