Zorba’s Cafe

A traditional Greek cafe with a pleasant patio.

From June 2006 Cheap Eats

In a neighborhood not known for restaurant bargains, Zorba's homey Greek cooking at Filene's Basement prices is a welcome change from fast-casual chains.

Two decades-plus have not tarnished the cafe's charm. Beyond the umbrella-topped patio lies an airy music-filled dining room with floral tablecloths and the usual Greek talismans: ocean-blue beads and heads of garlic to ward off the evil eye. Order at the counter, pay, then wait for the wisecracking Greek owner to hand you a place-mat-lined tray wafting garlicky aromas.

Then tuck into classics like cool yogurt-and-cucumber tzatziki; taramasalata, a fishy, salty purée of salmon roe; a pile of the smoky, orange-scented pork-and-lamb sausage known as loukaniko; and one of the best gyro plates around. Fasolatha, a grandmotherly Greek soup of white beans and vegetables, is a better choice than the white-bean salad, fasolia plakee, whose beans are undercooked. And this isn't the place for rice-stuffed grape leaves, which are mouth-puckeringly sour.

Moussaka, a layered casserole of ground beef, eggplant, and potato topped with a cloud of béchamel, is lighter than most versions. Perhaps best of all, though, are keftethes, meatballs packed with bits of parsley and onion and finished on the grill. They go especially well with the wonderful, hot house-baked rolls.

The dense house-made yogurt with honey, crushed walnuts, and cinnamon makes for a simple and authentic dessert.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.