Whenever you want authentic ethnic food, it is always a good idea to ask someone who is actually from the region for their favorite place to eat. My favorite restaurant, Vanilia, in Santorini was recommended by a Greek, and the same Greek recommended Papa Cristo's here in Los Angeles as the place he goes when he yearns for the comforting food of his homeland.
Papa Cristo's is a Greek institution, having been in business at the same location for nearly 60 years, owned by the same family. Places that withstand economic turns and fickle tastes for decades do it by doing something well, in Papa Cristo's case they do several things well, from authentic Greek dishes, to products from Greece you can not find elsewhere in Los Angeles. I saw from the plates at the taverna that portions were huge, so I opted to take a bit of everything home because if I ate in the place, I would end up with most of it in a doggie bag anyway.
Their spanikopita ($2 each) is the best I have ever eaten, and yes, that includes the places I ate it in Greece last year. It is perfectly flaky with a wonderful spinach and feta filling that did not even leave a grease stain on the paper lined foil pouch.
All their meals come with a Greek salad, replete with kalamata olives, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, and cucumbers on top of romaine and iceberg lettuce. The lemon and olive oil dressing is superb, but I ate half my salad without any dressing it was so good.
Because I don't remember the last time I saw it offered on any menu in Los Angeles (other than a handful of Asian places), I chose the grilled baby octopus as my entree for $13.99. The serving was so big that the container measured 9" x 13" and it was filled! The baby octopus was tender, marinated with a light lemon, olive oil, and oregano dressing, absolutely authentically prepared and addictive. The potatoes had a light seasoning that made the starch very palatable for a non potato eater like me and even though I only intended to taste them, I ended up eating half a potato (which my friends will tell you is a huge amount for me)!
Freshly made pita bread was included in the meal, along with tzatziki sauce (a yogurt and dill dipping sauce), and I tore into this warm fluffy bread with gusto, dipping it into the tzatziki every other bite.
This hearty meal was more than enough for two, much less my one small stomach, so the value and quality here is unbeatable. If you prefer lamb or chicken, or if you are vegetarian, they have all those options for meals, and every choice is under $13. Craving a truly European flavor? Order the whole grilled Tsipoura fish (under $18), a tender flaky fish that could convert nonfish eaters to pescatarians.
Every Thursday they have a "My Big Fat Greek Family Dinner" for $18.95 per person (not including tax + tip) that includes 8 appetizers, chicken, lamb, potatoes, green beans, Greek salad, baklava, Greek coffee, and live entertainment (belly dancers). This is probably more food and value than you can find anywhere else in Los Angeles, so take your family & friends and share the bountiful food and fun.
All you can imagine as appetizers, from dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) to taramosalata (Greek "caviar") are available, as well as the classic moussaka, kebabs, and gyros for entrees. If you want to make a meal at home, they sell lamb shanks, meats, and cheese in the cold case, and they have even more products in the freezer for you to take home and make later.
They have a large selection of ouzo and Greek wines to complete your meal, and prices are excellent; I bought some white anchovies in olive oil and lemon juice for less than $5 that would have cost over $12 at Whole Foods.
If you are in a sweet mood, there is an entire case of baked and sweet goods from cookies to baklava (a walnut and honey pastry), and loukoumades (fried honey puffs similar to donuts), but the sweetest deal is finding a taste of Greece in Los Angeles until I can go feast in Greece again.
For those of you who live in the Los Angeles area, the Los Angeles Times Travel Issue of BrandX (a generation X publication) published this article I wrote about Santorini in their 5/25/11 edition.