Greek food for a great price

When your ventures take you downtown, knowing where to eat is sometimes difficult for students that don’t often leave the Carnegie Mellon bubble. Christo’s Mediterranean Grill, conveniently located close to Heinz Hall and right next to a parking garage (for easy access), provides good food and a warm atmosphere reminiscent of old-world Greece. It’s a small place, but cozy, decorated with Greek memorabilia. The walls are covered with family pictures, and when you enter the restaurant, a glass display case filled with mementos like musical instruments and religious art acts as a divider.

It’s a busy place, especially around rush hour. A fairly cramped restaurant, some tables are very close together, almost touching. You might end up sitting closer to some neighbors than you really wanted. Try not to get a seat close to the door, as the restaurant has many visitors who come in, opening the door and letting in the cold air. Though not required, they do take reservations, and it’s probably best to get one so you don’t have to wait.

A side effect of the small quarters and crowds of customers is a slowdown and lack of service. Once you’re seated, you may have to wait 10 minutes before anyone comes to serve you, and even then you may have to be aggressive and shout for a waiter as he dashes past you. Cleanliness is also an issue, as menus come out dirty and covered in gravy and cups may not be sparkling clean. Even so, the waiters (though not all Greek and/or in the family) are very approachable and friendly, once they remember that you’re there. You can tell it’s a family restaurant; the waiters are eager to bring up Christo, the owner; his origins; or even how he’s cooking in back. Christo himself comes out when he’s not busy.

The food makes up for the lack in service. Warm pita and hummus is a traditional appetizer, and, like all things at Christo’s, homemade. At only $3.50, it’s worth trying, but if you need extra bread, be aware that they’ll charge you for it. The menu contains a variety of Greek foods, including a large selection of pastas, moussaka (layers of ground lamb, eggplant, and cheese), spanakopita (a spinach and cheese pastry), grilled lamb, and more. The food is all cooked and seasoned well; if Greek is your thing, you’ll love it. It may not be the best, but it is satisfying in the way a good home-cooked meal is. Each entree comes with a Greek salad, vegetables, and rice.

The restaurant offers combination platters in addition to its selection of entrees; the platter with moussaka and tyropita (a pastry filled with egg and cheese) is a good choice at under $10, giving you a chance to try two different dishes.

Christo’s offers homemade wine (both red and white) for $3.50 a glass. The wine is served in a small drinking glass rather than a wine glass, but it is still a popular beverage choice at the restaurant.

The desserts are the best part of Christo’s, and also the cheapest. There are traditional Greek desserts such as baklava, as well as the house specialty, the Onassis dessert, which is a white cake drenched in a honey syrup and topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Surprisingly delicious, its origins stem from a time when Christo was working as a chef on Jackie Onassis’ yacht, and he would make this for the first lady as her favorite dessert.

Prices are around $9–$15 per entree, although with appetizer, tip, and dessert it will probably cost you closer to $17 per person.

Highly recommended as part of the Christo’s experience is the journey to the bathroom, which is surprising in both length and scenery. The dining area may be smaller than a dorm room, but in order to get to the bathroom, you have to travel toward the back of the restaurant, through the kitchen (where you can see Christo working and a tray of baklava by the door), take a sketchy trip through a room filled with fridges, go down some quaintly decorated stairs into the cold basement, where you find a smaller, creepier dining area masked by Christmas lights and flowers before you finally reach the bathroom at the end of the hall.

All in all, despite the slow service and the occasional shabbiness, Christo’s provides a comforting atmosphere filled with bustling people. It is a place proud of its origins and history, serving good food and great cake. It’s a great place to eat before heading out to the theater, opera, or orchestra — but make sure to get there in advance so you won’t be late.

Christo’s is located at 130 6th St., Downtown. 412.261.6442