8.2
NYC

Kiki’s

Perfect For: Birthdays Casual Weeknight Dinner Keeping It Kind Of Healthy Lunch People Watching

You know that feeling right after you get a new haircut? You walk out of the salon, catch your reflection in a shop window halfway down the block, and the only things in your head are the hairdresser’s compliments and the Getty Image of whoever inspired this new look in the first place. You could go home, send selfies to four people you wish you were dating, and order in $40 worth of delivery for yourself.

But what you really want is to go out somewhere, ideally someplace where people are waiting out front, who you’re annoyed you have to shoulder past to get to the host stand, but all the stares you get from people in designer jumpsuits make it worth it. The problem is, very few places like that serve good food, and even fewer cost the same as delivery and a decent bottle of malbec. Kiki’s is one of those rare spots.

This casual Greek restaurant on the Chinatown/LES border has been packed nightly, often with hour-long waits on weekdays (they don’t take reservations), since it opened in 2015. The crowds mostly look like they’re approaching their 10-year high school reunions, where they’ll show up late and break the ice with stories about who they just met at a Fashion Week afterparty. People are sitting at wooden tables or either of the two bars in the airy space, which feels like it could be a casual family-run spot near the water in Santorini.

While the servers are more likely to be young Australians than elderly Greek ladies, the food here is still what you’d expect at a homey Greek restaurant. The uncomplicated, enjoyable dishes range from from lighter options, like smoked eggplant dip or grilled octopus, to heavier ones like melted cheese wrapped in phyllo dough and topped with honey. No matter what else you have on your table, make sure to get the lamb chops. They’re rich and a little charred, and served with an addictive housemade mustard and a mound of nicely spiced fries.

Given the scene and the quality of the food - plus the fact that the portions are pretty big - it’s all the more surprising that this place is relatively inexpensive. The dips and spreads, which come with very good fresh pita, are all $8, and most of the entrees are around $15. They even have a few house wines, and while they’re fairly bland examples of popular Greek varietals, at $24 per liter, you’re not going to be complaining.

Perhaps it’s the surprisingly affordable prices that make this place so popular, or maybe the owners here saw all the designer jumpsuits and decided that people have already spent enough. Either way, Kiki’s is worth the waits, and there’s no shortage of bars on the LES where you can show off that haircut until your table is ready.

Food Rundown

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

A simple Greek salad might not sound like the most interesting thing in the world, but this version is very good. Despite being topped with a pocket-dictionary-sized brick of feta, it’s still refreshing and not too salty.

Melitzanosalata

You can’t go wrong with any of the cold dips and spreads. They’re all $8, and served with pita right from the oven. We particularly like the eggplant dip, which is rich and smoky, and topped with crushed walnuts.

Grilled Octopus

This bowl of charred octopus bites is the best small plate here. You can taste the grill (in a good way), but it doesn’t overwhelm the octopus, and there’s a good amount of salt and lemon as well.

Loukaniko

If you want a simple appetizer served with nothing but lemon, and you don’t want sea monster arms, get this slightly sweet Greek sausage that crumbles as you bite into it.

Briam

This is basically a big bowl of roasted vegetables, including zucchini and eggplant. All the juices settle at the bottom, so make sure you have some extra pita or country bread on the table for dipping.

Saganaki

This is kind of like Pizza Hut cheesy bread, except it’s made with phyllo dough and it’s topped with honey. Obviously, you want to eat this. Just know that it tastes as much like a dessert as a starter.

Spanakopita

When you cut into this, the phyllo flakes off like you’re carving an ice sculpture. That part is good, but there’s not enough spinach inside, so the phyllo is pretty much all you get. You can skip this.

Moussaka

If you’re planning on heading to 169 Bar or Home Sweet Home or any place where you might actually need to stand up after dinner, this might not be for you. (It’s very rich.) But if your plans for tonight involve a couch and an AppleTV remote, or you’re sharing with a few people, then definitely get it.

Lamb Frikasse

This plate of lamb, cream sauce, and mushrooms is also very rich. The meat is braised to the point that it loses most of its flavor, and there’s so much cream sauce that this is almost a stew. We’d skip this and get the lamb chops instead.

Roasted Chicken

This roasted chicken is tender throughout, and the skin is thin and crispy, but the majority of the flavor comes from the pool of lemony aioli at the base of the plate. It kind of overwhelms the chicken, but it’s great with the potato wedges. This is a lot of food and it’s only $15, so keep it in mind if you’re looking to share an entree.

Lamb Chops

The menu here is long, and you could go a lot of different directions with your order. The only things that must be on your table are these lamb chops. They’re a little charred on the outside, juicy inside, and served with housemade mustard that we would put on just about anything. Including but not limited to the spiced fries that come under the chops.

Baklava

When you ask the people at your table if they want dessert, and everyone just moans or says they’d “have a bite of something,” order the baklava. It’s just three small pieces of super flaky phyllo dough filled with honey and walnuts. It’s sweet and rich, and one bite for everyone should do the trick.

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