There's no shortage of gyros options in Chicago.
When CND Gyros in Streeterville closed down recently after three-plus decades of providing gyros and beers and being an oasis from the Mag Mile crowd, it was as though a living version of the mid-1970s was blipped out of existence. Along with the preserved-in-amber lounge, their special gyros melt, made with melted cheese and grilled onions on gyros between two pieces of thick toasted bread, disappeared as well.
While nothing could replace CND, their gyros melt or the home-away-from-home feel of watching a ballgame there with an Old Style draft, fear not. Numerous other places around town distinguish themselves when it comes to that twirling cone of spiced lamb and beef. Here are a few examples of honoring the old tradition of gyros, as well as taking it to places it's never before been.
The old-school Greek diner style of restaurant in general is slowly going the way of CND, which is unfortunate, but still some examples remain. Perhaps the best is Central Gyro on the city's northwest side, where flaming cheese and taramosalata have their place on the seemingly endless menu of Greek specialties, but the multiple cones of always-twirling gyros is what's kept people coming back since 1979.
For a true tour of Greece-via-Chicago, one of the combo plates is a must try. The gyros combo comes with the standard gyros/onion/tomato/pita with tzaziki, then goes above and beyond with souvlaki (pork tenderloin) and Greek sausage alongside a heaping handful of steak fries. Watching your figure? Order a gyros salad ... with a side of extra gyros meat, perhaps, and a pour of retsina or roditis wine alongside.
Try the duck gyros at Taxim.
For as many Greek restaurants and gyros joints that populate the Chicago restaurant landscape, there's surprisingly little differentiation between them. Gyro meat is fairly standardized with just a few purveyors providing cones, and you have your standards like greek potatoes, egg lemon soup, moussaka and pasticcio. So when Taxim came on the scene and actually innovated with Greek cuisine, people sat up and took notice.
For the purposes of this venue guide, we direct your attention to the gyros on the Taxim menu - created not with lamb, beef, veal or the like, but with duck breast and leg meat. Yes, duck gyros. When you can wrap your brain around that, we'll proceed. Ready? On we go.
This artisan farm-sourced duck breast is spit roasted with pastourma spices and served with a mint-yogurt sauce. Somewhat standard, right? For the most part, it is, until you get to the pomegranate reduction alongside and the satz bread in place of the pita. Otherwise, you know, just your run of the mill duck gyros.
The mantle for housemade gyros may belong to Parthenon, and the award for most gyros served might be owned by the Greek Islands, but when it comes to your quick and simple round-the-clock gyros sandwich in Greektown, that distinction goes directly to Greektown Gyros.
When it's late at night and students from nearby UIC come wandering north on Halsted for some eats, where do they head? Greektown Gyros and their 24-hour outpost where you can get a gyros plate or a breakfast platter (or both) at 4 a.m. Ambrosia's, the attached bar, is open 'til practically all hours, and you can gorge yourself on booze, then stumble next door to soak up some of that beer with a nice bomb of grease and onion. Your breath will suffer, but your liver will thank you.
The origins of the gyros in Chicago can (and forever shall) be argued about, while their culinary ancestor, the doner kebab, gets far less attention. While gyros are directly connected to the Greeks, Cafe Orchid in Lakeview quietly serves up Turkish doner kebab with a tantalizing mix of lamb and veal, as opposed to the normal combo of spiced lamb and beef.
Other kebab such as kefte and chicken shish kebab are on the menu as well, but the doner and the adana - ground lamb with bell peppers and seasonings including mint - are the real attractions.
Wiener and Still Champion
Get your gyros fried at Evanston's Wiener and Still Champion
From the imagination of a man who plays a deep-fat fryer like Yo Yo Ma knows cello, Gus Paschalis of Evanston's Wiener and Still Champion has taken gyros to heights (or depths) rarely - if ever - seen among grease freaks. Imagine the fattiest, greasiest gyros you can conceive. Then think of something far, far worse for you. Consider if you will ... the Country Fried Gyros.
Strips of gyro meat are coated in batter, then dipped in the fryer and served with a "Mediterranean cucumber" dipping sauce. And fries, too, in case you desire your starch fried as well. Whether or not this enhances the gyros experience or not doesn't matter - thoughts like that evaporate in a spatter of grease when country-frying gyros meat become rational. What kind of maniac would put this on a menu? The same one who would offer country fried bacon just above it, that's who.