Villa Mexico Cafe – Boston, MA

Villa Mexico Cafe
296 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
(617) 957-0725

Lunch counters and gas station corners were home to some great food in the past, and are experiencing a come back. Low rent, high traffic locations, they seem like the ideal kinds of places for cheap, tasty eats.  The idea of food in a gas station always reminds me of  Crete Souvlaki in Calgary – one of the best tzatziki in town served out of a gas station.

Villa Mexico Cafe is located in a gas station in the swanky district of Beacon Hill in Boston. If you’ve ever walked around Beacon Hill, you’ll understand how different this is than the rest of the neighbourhood. The only indication that burrito’s are available inside, is a small sandwich board pronouncing the greatness within.

I don’t mean to carry a West Coast bias, but when it comes to burritos, I find that the East Coast just typically cannot compare. The East Coast has some great upscale Mexican eateries, but most of the time, I like my Mexican food fast and cheap. That means tacos, burritos, tamales, tortas.

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Crete Souvlaki (and OK Gas) – Calgary, AB

Crete Souvlaki and OK Gas
2623 17 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T3E 0A5
(403) 246-4777
Mon-Fri: 9:00AM-10:00PM, Sat-Sun: 11:30AM-9:30PM

When one mentions gas station food, take a minute and think about what comes to mind. For me, i immediately think of chips and chocolate bars. Stale gummies. Ice cream bars. Diesel flavoured pastries. Dried out beef jerky. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, three day old hot dog and fried chicken. Gas station food is generally about convenience, and very little about the taste. However, OK Gas and Crete Souvlaki in SW Calgary is one such station that is bucking the trend. Next time you stop to fill up, treat yourself to some… Greek Food!?

I first noticed Crete Souvlaki driving by it on my way to Spiros – my long ago favorite pizza place in Calgary. I noticed it not because it was immediately attractive, nor appealing, but because the juxtaposition of Souvlaki and Gas struck me as odd. Gas station Greek? Ugh.

Sometimes, restaurant information are like rumours – whispers on the wind, information you hear in snippets from a variety of sources, until you are unable to differentiate the sources, and fact from fiction. Typically, you’ll hear little bits regarding a place until finally decide you’ve heard enough to give it a try.

In the subsequent year,  I’d heard several people mention, or inquire, about Crete Souvlaki. “Great Greek food in a gas station!”, and “have you seen that Greek place in the gas station!?”. Simultaneously curious, and slightly repulsed by the concept, many people knew of them, but few had tried them. Those that did seemed to be converts. Great Greek was the common refrain. My only question was, was it “great gas station Greek”, or “great Greek in a gas station”? It’s popularity could very well be something of novelty. After hearing so many whispers, I had to try it.

I have to say, my first attempt was actually fairly painful. The food was bland, the lamb was ridiculously gristly and overcooked, and most of the salad ingredients tasted like they had been sitting in a metal bowl for far too many days. I passed the location off as novelty, and nothing more.

Then the whisper came again. “You ordered the wrong thing. Crete Souvlaki is all about the tzatziki. It’s fantastic. Best in the city”. Hear that a few times, and the memory of gristly lamb, over-lemon’d potatos, and crappy greek salad start to fade away. Replaced with this idea that something as simple, and more often than not poorly executed, as tzatziki, could be done well. In a gas station. A return trip.

The tzatziki is good. Really good. Creamy, rich, it’s been properly strained. You can see cucumber, taste the dill and lemon. Loaded with flavour. Hmm. Best in the city? Not sure. But it’s up there. The pita are the flat, doughy disks of pita that I don’t like. But the tzatziki redeem them. With the Souvlaki and fries? Excellent. The Souvlaki is actually only average, and the fries arent great. But Tzatziki makes everything better. You can see why tzatziki is an order all in it’s own, and why they charge a lot for it. It’s like butter – it makes everything better.

A good experience emboldens you. Spanakopita. Phyllo, feta, spinach. Excellent tzatziki delivery vehicle right? Well, the magical tzatziki cannot even redeem this. Dry, pasty, flavourless, the spanakopita is terrible. The tzatziki fails. Short lived euphoria.

In an overall assessment of Crete Souvlaki and OK Gas, it comes down to a very simple list to remember. The tzatziki is great. The souvlaki is good. Everything else sucks. Calamari is frozen and rubbery. Spanakopita, don’t even get me started. Moussaka? Flavourless and mushy. Terrible. But don’t take my word for it, I’m sure you’ve heard the whispers too. Try it yourself, but i’d suggest ordering a lot of Tzatziki with your meal. After all, it can only be an improvement.

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