Samos Restaurant in East Baltimore has been taking good care of folks for many years.
Doctors from the nearby Bayview medical campus, beat cops, Greek-speaking locals and regulars who come from miles away all have discovered this unassuming eatery.
There's no great mystery behind its success. Samos uses fresh ingredients and tried-and-true recipes, and offers good service.
Situated a block off Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, Samos used to have a hole-in-the-wall feel - one room with a handful of tables. A few years back, it expanded southward, took over the rowhouse next door and added a few painted murals and knickknacks.
But Samos remains very much a carryout-friendly restaurant, we were happy to discover on a recent visit.
While we waited, we sat back and watched owner and chef Nick Georgalas at work. Standing tall at the grill, he is a marvel of focused efficiency, turning out countless grilled kebabs and gyros. Even though it was dinnertime, our huge order was ready quickly and our server couldn't have been more pleasant assembling it.
Starting with appetizers, a thick and hearty avgolemono soup ($3) had just the right amount of lemon zip, as well as chicken pieces, carrots and long-grain rice. Delicious grape leaves ($5.75) were stuffed with rice and flavorful ground meat, and covered with a lemony sauce. And the taramasalata $4.75) combined fish roe, potatoes and olive oil to create a winning concoction that resembled orange cottage cheese, garnished with carrot sticks.
Chicken kebabs ($2.75) were grilled, meaty and well-seasoned with oregano. They were served with fresh pita bread and a lemon wedge. Fried calamari ($7.95) were fresh and not overcooked (although they got a tad chewy cooped up in a Styrofoam container on the way home).
Moussaka ($14.95) was a hearty combination of eggplant, potatoes and spicy meat sauce topped with a thick bechamel sauce - kind of a Greek lasagna without the pasta. And we wolfed down a shrimp wrap ($5.95), which combined grilled shrimp with raw onions, lettuce, tomato chunks and a yogurt-based tzatziki sauce, all rolled up in a pita.
Samos offers a handful of desserts. We chose the rice pudding ($2.50), which is made on the premises. Creamy, smooth and dusted with cinnamon, it was a nice end to the meal.
One note: Samos often takes its phone off the hook, making it impossible to place orders in advance. Also, if you're considering eating in, bring your own alcoholic beverages.
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Food: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars) Service: *** 1/2 (3 1/2 stars)
Waiting area: *** (3 stars)
Parking: ** 1/2 (2 1/2 stars)
Where: 600 Oldham St., Highlandtown
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Prices: Greek soups, appetizers and entrees, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti, fried fish and salads, $1.95 to $17.50; no credit cards or checks
Outstanding: **** (4 stars)
Good: *** (3 stars)
Fair or uneven: ** (2 stars)
Poor: * (1 star)