Yasou Greek Bistro

A Greek appetizer of Keftedes, or meatballs, served with tzatziki and pita bread at Yasou Greek Bistro. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun / January 2, 2013)

In Greek, "Yasou" means "health to you." It's used as a greeting and a toast, like "Cheers!"

At Yasou Greek Bistro, there's plenty of reason to toast. With simple, nicely cooked takes on Greek specialties and friendly service, the busy Hunt Valley restaurant is a good choice for diners in search of top-notch Greek food without the drive to Greektown.

Yasou occupies a small space in a shopping center on York Road, where Cockeysville meets Hunt Valley. Inside, clean white paint and shiny tables give the year-old restaurant a brand-new feeling. But the decor — brightly colored Mediterranean murals and blue and white accents — is in the same vein as Baltimore's oldest Greek restaurants.

Just before 7 on a recent Friday night, Yasou was jam-packed. We lucked into the last small table available, bypassing a larger group waiting for one of the restaurant's big booths.

Moments after we sat, a personable waitress arrived to take drink orders and open our bottle of wine. Yasou is BYOB ($2 corkage fee per diner drinking alcohol) with no plans to acquire a liquor license.

Though Yasou's menu includes pasta dishes, subs and pizzas, we took our cue from the tables around us, sticking with Greek specialties. We started with small Greek salads, which came with our entrees.

Crispy iceberg lettuce, thin slices of red onion, tomato and cucumber were sprinkled with fine bits of salty feta and dressed with simple vinaigrette. The salads weren't surprising, but they were a crunchy and bright start to the meal.

An appetizer of saganaki ($8.50), fried Kasseri cheese swimming in lemony olive oil, felt like the healthy salads' polar opposite.

Back in the kitchen, the cheese was fried in a pan, doused with brandy and flambeed, leaving a little of the liquor's sweetness. Smeared on triangles of pita, the appetizer was messy but tasty.

Also from the appetizer menu, an order of keftedes ($8.50) — meatballs — was the biggest hit of the meal.

Made with ground sirloin from Monkton's Roseda Farms, mixed with herbs and spices and pan-fried, the dish was fragrant and savory. The meat was just cooked through, with a thin crust on the outside but surprisingly soft in the center.

Also on the plate, a dish of thick, tangy tzatziki was a bright sauce for the warm meat. And when the meat was gone, we couldn't resist polishing off the yogurt dip with more pita triangles.

Entrees also came with a generous helping of pita bread and tzatziki.

Shrimp souvlaki ($16.95), eight large shrimp grilled on skewers and served over rice, was straightforward but satisfying. A garlicky marinade worked nicely with the sweet flavor of the shrimp. Though the rice was a tad overcooked, the shrimp itself was tender and just cooked through.

Even better was a baby rack of lamb chops ($24.95). Six small chops, marinated for hours in herbs and spices and grilled, were smoky and flavorful.

When our waitress didn't ask about cooking temperature for the lamb, we had some concerns. We shouldn't have worried. Though they were cooked through — more done than we usually eat lamb — the small chops were impressively tender.

Cooking over charcoal was another plus in their favor. The unmistakable smoke of charcoal grilling gave the chops an extra layer of flavor.

On the side, an order of fluffy fries was good, especially dipped in tzatziki, though they seemed unexciting next to the lamb.

After checking with the kitchen, our waitress rattled off several dessert options. We opted for the house-made galaktoboureko ($4.75) a mouthful of a name describing a Greek custard pie.