Review: Souvla — Opa!

Souvla opened its third San Francisco storefront in the Mission (the other two are in Hayes Valley and NoPa) just this year. It’s part of the newish wave of “fine-casual” restaurants opening throughout the city — also known as upscale fast food — with spare décor, clean lines, self-serve water, order at the counter, grab a number, then hope to find a table before your food is delivered to you. They’re very popular with the young crowd, and they do a great take-out business for all those techies that don’t cook but who still want the semblance of a home-cooked meal. Enter Souvla.

It’s cutesy as hell. You may not want to like it, but it’s hard not to, because the food is pretty good. The menu is compact, but covers all your bases: rotisseried pork shoulder, lamb or chicken (“Souvla” means “skewer” in Greek), and a veggie thing that sounded interesting (sweet potato, yogurt, walnuts, etc.), all of which can be had either in a pita or salad form. Sides are a Greek salad, avgolemono soup (a chicken-and-egg broth), Greek juicy potatoes and mizithra-garlic fries. There are Greek wines (sparkling, white, rosé or red. Oh, and Retsina! (a Greek white wine with a distinct, yet delicate, piney flavor.) For dessert, there’s frozen yogurt with a few toppings, and that’s about it.

On our first visit, we had one each of the pork and lamb sandwiches ….

Souvla pork sandwich.

The pork sandwich was chock-full of pretty much the same veggies that were in our side salad (radishes, cucumbers, etc.). Very tasty, dusted with feta, with a nice porky flavor, moist and tender, and I loved the minty yogurt and the crunchiness of the veg — especially the pickled red onions. In fact, I liked it better than my lamb.

Souvla lamb sandwich.

The lamb sandwich came with a harissa mayo for a touch of heat, and on the same pillowy pita and same veggies, but it wasn’t quite as flavorful as the pork.

I was really excited for the Greek fries ….

Souvla mizithra fries.

… sprinkled with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and mizithra — a salty, dry Greek cheese I learned to love at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Los Angeles — but, unfortunately, you couldn’t really taste it. As fries, they were fine, but just not as stellar as they sounded.

I had a really lovely Greek rosé …

Souvla wine

… and they do a generous pour: they fill up about a third of a wine glass and then put the rest in a cooling aluminum cup, which was just about another whole glass. I love those metallic cups — they really do help keep your beverage frosty until you’re ready to pour the rest in.

Souvla rotisserie

The rotisserie.

My second visit was with a friend who inexplicably chose to do a cleanse at the same time we were having dinner, so she only had a salad — AND WITHOUT THE FETA.

Souvla green salad.

I don’t think the Greeks would approve, but she enjoyed it.

I ordered the roasted chicken salad …

Souvla chicken salad.

Exceptional! The spit-roasted chicken, unlike most vapid, dry breast-meat chicken salads, actually tasted like chicken. The menu says it comes with “granch” dressing, which I take to mean something Greek-ish blended with a ranch-style dressing, but really, all I tasted were the delicious chicken juices. It also had orange sections, plenty of mizithra, kale, fennel and more of those tangy red onions. Filling and yet light — I took half the bowl home with me and made it last for two more lunches, and the greens stood up to this perfectly.

The best dish of the evening was the “juicy potatoes” — tubers that are cooked in the drippings of the chicken, just like they do in France.

Souvla juicy potatoes.

Again, SO CHICKENY. Floating in a sea of drippings and tossed with fresh oregano — on a scale of the top 10 potatoes in my life, these had to be at least a 7. Perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious.

We also got a froyo and, since my friend wasn’t partaking, I opted for the olive oil and flaked sea salt topping.

Souvla yogurt olive oil sea salt

Divine — tart and creamy, rich and salty. My friend had to sit there and pretend I wasn’t moaning aloud.

Souvla can be a scene. The second night, there was a line out the door to order our food, and we had to wait to get a table, but luckily were seated before our food was ready. And I wouldn’t call this place a bargain — the salads cost more than the pitas, and all of it is just a tad overpriced for pretty simple Greek fare. But it’s well done, and I’d go back for that chicken salad alone — and, of course, the potatoes. Overall, it’s a pleasant place to have a light meal and a glass of chilled wine, a perfect summery spot for our upcoming San Francisco fall weather.

Souvla
758 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
415-400-5458

www.souvlasf.com/location/mission/

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