Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy.
Falling for new flavors is my favorite part of traveling. In the spring of 2015, while honeymooning in Santorini, I discovered that the landmark-based directions given to us by locals, were like culinary treasure maps, with a view of the Aegean Sea and an “x” to mark the spot.
Our first afternoon in town, we followed my jotted notes: With the sea on your right, walk on the cliff-side path to Fira until the pavement turns to cobblestones.
Next to the pharmacy with the green-cross sign you’ll find Lucky’s. After a few wrong turns and scenic pauses, we found ourselves in front of a gyro stand with just the right amount of kitsch.
Playful wooden cutouts of cold beer and pita sandwiches line the entrance to a walk-up counter guarding a row of rotating spits of grilled meat. Our timing was just right to grab two coveted stools where we took our seats to the watch the show unfolding in front of us. Smiling young cooks dodged and weaved, shouting happily at each other and customers, effortlessly taking orders, assembling food and collecting payment all at once. Catching the eyes of a young cook, I smile and point to our neighbors’ food as a way of placing our order. Without a hitch, he expertly wraps two gyros with the works.
With one bite, we discovered why the place is named Lucky’s. Each mouthful of chewy toasted pita, sizzling spiced meat, crispy fries, and veggies was perfectly balanced by a cooling yogurt sauce made with fresh garlic and cucumber.
Back home in San Diego, I wanted to recreate this street food gem using local ingredients, and in a more local form: as a street taco. I swapped out the warm toasted pita for a charred tortilla, Greek-spiced steak for the gyro meat, and topped it with bright pickled salad and creamy feta. Enjoying this dish at home in Little Italy, the cobblestone streets of Greece and the azure of the Mediterranean become superimposed over the hustle of India Street, and the blue bay beyond.