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New Leo's owners do right by the old Hillcrest favorite 

click to enlarge image BETTER THAN EVER: The gyros platter at Leo's Greek Castle.
  • Jess Roberts
  • BETTER THAN EVER: The gyros platter at Leo's Greek Castle.

There's always a sense of apprehension when a long-time favorite restaurant changes hands, especially one such as Leo's Greek Castle, the Hillcrest mainstay that operated under the leadership of Hector Parodi for two decades. Parodi sold out to a couple of young men earlier this year, and while we wished new owners Frank Cox and Thomas Alford the best, we weren't sure if Leo's would remain on our regular rotation of good spots for cheap eats. After all, Leo's couldn't possibly be the same under new management, right? Well we finally made it into the place, and we can answer that question in the affirmative: Leo's isn't the same. And lucky us that it isn't, because the food is better than ever.

For our first trip back in this new era of Leo's, we decided to put the place through its paces and order strictly from the Greek side of the menu, figuring that a couple of American guys could probably get the burgers and sandwiches from their native cuisine right. To this end, we started with the Sampler Platter ($6.99), a sort of "greatest hits" of Mediterranean starters that includes three dolmades, a large bowl of hummus, and a small cup of tabbouleh. The dolmades were small, but packed with flavor, served cold with a couple of slices of lemon just like we like them. Each bite of rice stuffing and tender grape leaves was a pleasure, and we knew we were off to a good start.

Our previous experience with Leo's hummus hadn't been a great one, the chickpea puree overwhelmed by the flavor that reminded us of nothing so much as pickle brine. The hummus on our most recent trip was worlds better, with chickpeas blended with tahini to create a dip that was smooth, nutty, and accented perfectly by the dusting of spices on top. The pita served with the hummus was hot and fresh, pillowy soft and quite tasty. It made a nice contrast to the cold, tangy dolmades. The tabbouleh was, unfortunately, the only miss of the meal, because while the parsley and bulgur wheat were fresh, they could have used a kick of flavor, preferably the traditional lemon juice and cucumber that make this dish so refreshing.

The tabbouleh proved to be the only bump in the road of this meal, however, and our next dish — a piping hot spanakopita ($3.75) — had us back on the right track in no time. Tender, flaky puff pastry stuffed with seasoned spinach and feta cheese was good enough on its own, but paired with a cup of cold tzatziki sauce it was perfect. The contrast of crisp, golden brown pastry with the soft, savory filling was nice.

With our appetites whetted, we turned to our main course, the Gyros Platter ($8.99), a large portion of shaved gyros meat served with pita, fries, and a small pile of onions and tomato. Our last trip to Leo's had seen our gyros served up tough and overcooked, but these slices were nice and juicy, seared just right and spiced well. Another portion of tzatziki made for an excellent addition to the meat and bread, and the fresh onions and tomatoes added depth to the dish. The meat was so good that we wished we could have traded in our fries for a little extra, especially since these fries are of the frozen and quick-fried variety. Still, despite the fries, this was a fantastic plate of food.

We ended our meal as all Greek meals should be ended — with a piece of baklava ($1.79). More delicious puff pastry was in play here, this time holding a wonderful filling of seasoned nuts and drenched in honey. It's a crunchy, wonderfully messy dessert, and made for a sweet end to a good meal. By the time we reached our last bite, our initial fears had been replaced by a new belief: Leo's Greek Castle is here to stay, and better than ever.

Leo's Greek Castle

2925 Kavanaugh Blvd.

666-7414

HOURS

7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday.

OTHER INFO

All major CC, no alcohol.

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