My search for the perfect Greek cuisine leads me from a Pasadena hole-in-the-wall, through the streets of New York to a wine bar & restaurant in Pismo Beach.
2008: Pasadena, CA
The front of house is about the size of my living room. A thin countertop runs parallel to the order counter, happy customers perched atop each available stool, with hungry patrons standing in line to their backs. Bodies are crammed in one top of another and all the tables are full. The remaining outside tables, situated on a small patio about the same size as the interior, are quickly filling up. The line — full of students, businessmen on lunch break, friends and local families — is rapidly growing out the door. A menu hangs over the order/pickup counter, but there is really only one thing to order…the kebab plate.
The plate is overflowing with different elements that work together to create a flavorful, textural, delightful meal: tangy tzatziki full of garlic; thick hummus nestled under a slab of warm pita bread; a rough-chopped Greek salad bursting with fresh tomatoes, cucumber and generous hunks of salty feta cheese. Rice pilaf spills over the dividers in the styrofoam container. And the juicy, perfectly spiced, brimming with flavor kebabs. The staff here furiously churn out one kebab plate after another, filling orders almost as fast as the line grows.
This is my favorite hole-in-the-wall Greek cafe off the main streets of Pasadena. This place has no front entrance. Enter through the back door, the one that faces the parking lot, not the street, and indulge in this experience.
It is here that I fall in love with this kebab plate, this cuisine, these flavors. It becomes a part of me, connecting with some ancestral thread leading back to my familial roots in the islands of the Mediterranean Sea. This is food that I crave deeply. I move away from Pasadena for college, never to return to this local gem.
2012: New York, NY
I’m living in New York during college, on a student’s budget and, of course, on a student’s schedule. Weekends consist of late night food runs, meandering back to the apartment after a night of exploration. Weekdays bring the desire for something outside of the norm of readily available cafeteria, as comforting to my wallet as to my hungry stomach — and stat! Speed is key in New York City, where everyone moves at a mile a minute.
Food carts are as integral to Manhattan as the horse-drawn carriages that gallivant around Central Park. Here, I find my next love of Greek food – the glorious Gyro sandwich.
Here it is — a perfect, handheld meal that holds, in my mind, as worthy of a rank as a burger or the quintessential New York bodega bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich. The glorious Gyro sandwich gives me all the best parts of the kebab plate in a portable, cheaper vessel. I don’t want to go to a restaurant for this here. I want the nearest food cart, the one that can make it the fastest, because I know, no matter what, it will always be this good.
After college I flee the harsh winters of the east coast in favor of my homeland, the sunny, perpetually dry land of the California coast.
2018: Pismo Beach, CA
Three and a half years into living in San Luis Obispo County and no glorious Gyro to be found. Surely, someone, somewhere has to open an eatery as a testament to the highlights of Greek cuisine. Where is my Gyro? Who has my kebab? My search continues, fruitless.
I hear of a new wine bar & restaurant that’s opened on Oak Park. It’s called H-A-P-Y. What happened to the second P? I don’t drink wine, and am apprehensive. Ultimately, curiosity grips me. I go.
Perusing the menu, I see lamb, beef, chicken, baklava, hummus and bacon wrapped dates! Could this be it? Could this be the Mediterranean paradise I’ve been missing in my life here on the Central Coast? I flip a page in the menu and see it — the kebab plate. One more — the Gyro. The glorious gyro.
And so I order. I take the chance. Will this be a worthy replica of the street Gyros of yesteryear? Craveable Greek food has yet eluded me here. That is, until I order the Hapy Gyro.
If first one eats with their eyes, I am already satisfied. The pita, impossibly soft and fluffy, yet withstanding the generous helping of lettuce, tomato, tzatziki and meat. I scoop it up and take a bite. Incredible. This tastes as good as the authentic food cart gyro sandwich found in the streets of Manhattan. And somehow, its better.
It’s better because situated in the offset corner of a retail shopping complex, this slice of Greek delight resides. Innumerable bottles of wine line the shelves behind and in front of me. Off to my right, a humidor full of cigars. The ceiling above the bar twinkles with the most creative LED light display mimicking the empty sky at night.
I leave, ecstatic.
Most recently, I had the Beef Kebab plate at Hapy, made with filet mignon. I chose for my sides Greek salad and rice pilaf. Again, simply incredible. The generous portions of beef on each kebab were at once, charred to perfection, kissed with the black lines of the grill, and perfectly tender, moist, easy to eat and completely saturated with spices.
I found the tzatziki pleasantly packed with fresh garlic, and the Greek salad leveled up from its usual three ingredient garb, dressed with capers and fresh baby lettuces.
Hapy proved itself two Greek favorites, the Gyro and the Kebab plate, with class, finesse and creativity. After this, I knew I had found my Hapy home.
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Hapy Bistro features a variety of dishes with Greek influence. We recommend:
- Ahi Tuna Bruschetta
- Bacon Wrapped Dates
- Kebab Plates
- Lamb Burger
You can visit Hapy Bistro:
- Sunday-Wednesday 11 am – 9 pm
- Thursday 11 am – 9:30 pm
- Friday & Saturday 11 am – 10 pm
821 N Oak Park Blvd + Pismo Beach, CA + 93449 + 805.270.4327