Restaurant: Sfinaki Taverna
Last visited: April 13, 2013
Location: Burnaby, BC (North Burnaby)
Address: 120 4061 Hastings Street
Phone: (604) 299-3400
Transit: WB Hastings St FS Gilmore Av
Price Range: $10-20+ ($16-19 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Since 1995
- Greek family owned/operated
- Home made family recipes
- Neighbourhood favourite
- Busy at peak hours
- Good portions
- Vegetarian friendly
- Family friendly
- Free parking at rear
- Dine in/Take out/Delivery
- Monday to Thursday 11:00am – 9:30pm
- Friday and Saturday 11:00am – 10:00pm
- Sunday and holidays 3:00pm – 9:30pm
**Recommendations: Lamb Chops, Arni Psito ‘Kleftiko’ (Roast Lamb), Keftedes (Greek meatballs), Saganaki (fried cheese), taramosalata (Greek caviar dip)
It’s the 2nd Annual Crave the Heights in North Burnaby on Tuesday, April 23 to Thursday, April 25, and to prepare for the event I decided to scope out the area ahead of time. The historic Burnaby Heights is full of mom and pop eateries and restaurants that have been there for years. It’s an ethnic area with a range of international cuisines and affordable menus. While the area is developing, or better to say “revamping”, there are some family owned restaurants that are classic to the neighbourhood. This is one of them. Welcome to Sfinaki Taverna! Opa!
With the abundance of real and artificial plants, Roman inspired statues and decor, and Grecian memorabilia, it had all the signs of a stereotypical Greek restaurant. Besides the signage outside, I doubt much has changed inside and it was a full house at dinner time. It kind of inspired me to write a 10 Characteristics of a Greek Restaurant post, similar to my 10 Characteristics of a Vietnamese Restaurant post. It’s all in good fun, and fun is what this restaurant is about.
This is the Karamessinis family (Denny, Tom, Pam, Nicki, Eva, Crystal, Bia).
I’m pretty sure there is one “imposter” though because (see comments) I know there are only 3 sisters and 1 brother (Crystal is Denny’s fiancee). However, it doesn’t matter, everyone is treated like family here. Tom, the father, moved to Vancouver from Greece and opened Sfinaki Taverna in 1995. He is still often at the restaurant, but the responsibilities are in the hands of his children (grown up children).
Honestly I had to come down from my excitement before writing this post. It is hard not to absorb the personalities of these energetic and friendly sisters. This triple threat is a power house and they really know how to work the room. On this occasion I was invited, but every guest was greeted, many by their first names too. It is an obvious local favourite with a loyal clientèle. It is one of the top rated Greek restaurants in North Burnaby so I came with some sort of positive expectations.
Even though I’ve only been here once, I can assume that their long term success has been due to consistency. Whether it be good or bad it is always the same, which has its pros and cons in itself. Luckily the food was actually good and the recipes have been passed down from generations so almost all the dishes were tried, tested and true.
While the majority of dishes were very good there were things that could be better, however that would mean changing the recipe which means messing with tradition. Touchy subject. They say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and my answer to that would be “there is always room for improvement” – I’m talking about recipes here.
Aside from that, the dining experience was lovely, the food came out hot, and the portions were generous (c’mon it’s Greek food). While the prices are slightly higher than what the average Greek restaurant charges in Metro Vancouver, I would still come back and recommend it for the area.
For Crave the Heights, Sfinaki Taverna offers a 3 course $20 set menu – see here. You might know how I feel about set menus (see here), so I decided to try other things on the regular a la carte menu as well. If you’re coming for Crave I would recommend adding additional dishes.
On the table:
- Pan-fried Greek cheese; served sizzling hot with lemon $10
- This is a Greek staple, but not every restaurant offers it in Metro Vancouver.
- How can you go wrong? It’s fried cheese. Delicious and decadent!
- It was served sizzling hot as it should be, but they didn’t flamblée it at the table which they sometimes do.
- It can be made with a variety of firm Greek cheeses, but this was made from kefalograviera which is quite typical for the appetizer.
- Kefalograviera is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that is rich in flavour, not gamey, and slightly salty and brined.
- It’s stronger than Mozzarella, but has the texture of it.
- It is less salty than Parmigiano-Reggiano and has the aroma of a medium cheddar.
- It was lightly coated in flour and fried crispy and the inside was all soft, stringy and ooey gooey.
- It was sliced a little bit on the thin side, but it was still well made.
- I couldn’t taste the Metaxa (Greek brandy) or Ouzo (anise aperatif) that is poured on top before it is flambléed, but it was still excellent .
- You have to squeeze the lemon on top before you eat it and that just cuts the greasy richness and makes it taste so much better.
- It is fried in olive oil and a little pool of it is to be expected. It is an oily dish and the cheese is dripping in it, so be prepared!
- Homus, tzatziki and tarama; served with pita $9
- Pita basket – a mixed basket of brown, white and flatbread pita ($5 a la carte)
- The pita was fresh, soft and served warm. I appreciated the variety and it was a good pita basket.
- Pureed chickpea dip made with tahini, lemon and garlic; served with pita ($7 a la carte)
- The chickpeas were not boiled from their raw state, but I didn’t expect it to be anyways.
- It was thick, smooth and fluffy and there was good garlic and lemon flavour.
- It was quite standard, a bit on the thin side, but still very good.
Tzatziki – 3/6 (Good)
- Creamy yogurt dip made with sour cream, cucumber and garlic; served wtih pita ($7 a la carte)
- I have no idea why they used sour cream in this and it was the first time I’ve come across it in a Greek taztziki.
- I prefer my taztziki to be made with high fat thick Greek yogurt, and this was on the thin side for me, but still good.
- It tasted like equal parts Greek yogurt and sour cream and there was a bit of grated cucumber.
- It was quite garlicky and the garlic was fresh leaving a bit of spice.
- One of my favourite tzatziki dips thus far is from Martini’s in Vancouver.
**Tarama – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Greek caviar dip made with onion and lemon; served with pita ($7 a la carte)
- Taramasalata (Tarama) is one of my favourite Greek dips and I always order it if it is available.
- It was quite heavy with the lemon which drowned out any fishiness from the caviar and it was not really that fishy at all.
- The fishiness was very mild and it was the most tart and lemon forward of all the dips.
- The texture was smooth, creamy and very fluffy.
- It is traditionally made with puréed soaked white bread which is never obvious.
- It just tastes like caviar mixed with yogurt, onion, olive oil and lemon, but there is no yogurt in it.
Appy Platter – 4/6 (Very good)
- Deep fried kalamari, dolmathes, keftedes and spanakopita, served with taziziki, homus and pita $25
- I really enjoyed this appetizer platter and it was certainly enough for 2-4.
- I know deep fried kalamari is always a favourite, but I actually liked it the least in this platter although it was not bad.
- Everything else was just very good and I would order some of the items a la carte.
Kalamari – 3/6 (Good)
- Deep-fried baby squid topped with onions; served with lemon and tzatziki ($10 a la carte)
- It had a light and crisp batter, but I found the batter and squid under seasoned.
- It was tender and not chewy, but average and quite standard besides being on the bland side.
- I enjoyed the other appetizers more than this.
- They also offer a grilled kalamari appetizer I want to go back for. Grilled kalamri is more authentic to Greece too.
Dolmathes – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Spiced ground sirloin beef and rice wrapped in grape leaves, topped with lemon dill sauce ($9 a la carte)
- I rarely order these when I go for Greek food. I like them, but they never call my name.
- Apparently Dolmathes were traditionally a vegan dish in Greece.
- There are many versions of these in Greece so the recipes are regional.
- The most typical in Vancouver are the ones with Avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce, and the other versions are with tomato or no sauce.
- The vegetarian versions are usually served cold and the meat ones are served hot.
- I was really surprised they used sirloin beef because regular ground beef for this recipe would be fine, but I won’t complain about a better cut.
- There was a decent amount of cinnamon or clove (?) spiced beef mixed with the rice and it wasn’t too mushy which I liked.
- The stuffing was moist with onions, parsley and mint, but I couldn’t taste much dill.
- They were topped with Avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce and again I couldn’t taste the dill in this either.
- The sauce is usually made with eggs, lemon and the broth from cooking the dolmathes.
- This one was thick and smooth, but not as eggy as I prefer, however I could taste that aromatic dolamthes broth which was nice.
- It tasted like a tangy lemony béchamel sauce, but less savoury and buttery and more herby.
- I think it could have been thickened with corn starch which is not rare, but I prefer without. I prefer the thickness to come from eggs.
**Keftedes – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- Grilled Greek style meatballs made with lean ground beef and herbs; served with tzatziki ($8 a la carte)
- These looked really boring and almost unappetizing, but they were surprisingly awesome!
- I liked how they flattened them instead of rolling them into balls too because it meant more surface area for them to crisp up.
- These traditional Greek meatballs are rolled in flour and pan fried crispy, but the inside is super moist and tender.
- It was almost like meatloaf and the meat was very well seasoned and flavoured with grated onions, garlic, oregano and mint.
- I was so surprised it was lean beef because they tasted meaty and were super moist and savoury.
- There was likely some eggs and bread crumbs to give it that soft texture and it reminded me of Swedish meatballs.
- They were great with the tzatziki or even the homus, but they had so much flavour on their own it didn’t even need a sauce.
- I waited until they went cold to see if they would still be moist and they were!
- These are adult friendly and kid friendly and I would order them again for sure.
Spanakopita – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- Spinach, green onions and feta wrapped in filo; served with tzatziki ($8 a la carte)
- This needs no introduction like a lot of Greek food.
- The phyllo pastry was crispy, flaky and thin and not too doughy and they were served hot.
- The spinach and green onion stuffing was not wet or soggy or mushy, but I could have used more feta.
- It was flavourful with a bit of dill, not oily and rather light, and overall well made.
- They were generous with the stuffing and I found them enjoyable, but I also bet they make even better ones at home.
The Original Horiatiki Salata – 4/6 (Very good)
- Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, white onions, green onions, radishes, capers, parsley, Kalamata olives and feta; drizzled with our notorious olive oil vinaigrette Small $9 Large $11
- This was a gorgeous salad.
- The vegetables were noticeably fresh. The tomatoes were juicy, cucumbers crunchy, and radishes crisp.
- I could have used more Kalamata olives and feta though. They are the pricey ingredients in this, but I think for the price it would be fair to include more.
- The dressing was a basic olive oil and balsamic dressing and it was a flavourful salad.
**Paidakia Skaras (Lamb Chops) – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- Charboiled lamb chops, delicately seasoned with oregano and lemon. Served with rice pilaf, roasted potato, Greek salad and pita ($19 a la carte)
- This is a sample version of their lamb chops entree, so I’m not sure what the regular a la carte version looks like.
- Many people may find this boring, but there is something to be said about simple dishes made well.
- Paidakia is a very popular Greek appetizer dish and it’s simply grilled lamb chops with oregano or thyme, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
- It sounds like something you could make at home, and you can, but they are worth ordering here as well.
- The cut and quality of lamb becomes extremely important in this.
- Ideally it should be a rib chop from a young baby lamb which is the most tender chop.
- This one is a lamb loin chop which is still tender, but not as tender as a lamb rib chop.
- It has more meat than the lamb rib chop and it is also a bit more affordable.
- It doesn’t have the ‘popsicle’ handle and the quality could get even better, but it was still very good.
- It was tender, but cooked medium well. Although it was still tender I would have liked it medium rare or medium.
- There was just enough fat to keep the meat moist and flavourful, but not too much where it was overwhelming.
- For those who fear gamey lamb, you would have thought this was beef.
- Being a lamb loin chop it was like a baby t-bone steak.
- There was no gaminess at all and usually rack of lamb has a gaminess even if mild.
- It had a freshly cracked black pepper crust and it was peppery, but not spicy.
- The sauce tasted like brown butter and olive oil, but it was just olive oil, dried oregano and salt and pepper.
- The quality of lamb, freshness of herbs, and high quality olive oil is what makes this appetizer stand out in Greece, as to why people love them there most (duh!).
- Despite not having the classic popsicle bone handles, I still ate these with my hands (as Greeks would) and I found myself licking my fingers.
- I even dipped my pita into the leftover sauce. Delicious!
- Apples and oranges, but if you like these I also recommend the lamb chops from Vij’s – see Wine Marinated Lamb Popsicles in Fenugreek Cream Curry.
**Arni Psito ‘Kleftiko’ (Roast Lamb) – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Shoulder of lamb marinated in our own blend of herbs and spices and oven-baked until fork-tender- the best in town! Served with rice pilaf, roasted potato, Greek salad and pita $17
- Roast lamb leg or shoulder is another traditional and staple Greek dish.
- Again it looked really boring and bland, but they do simple dishes well here.
- This was definitely a passed down recipe and I have a feeling it is consistent since it’s the house favourite and most popular.
- Lamb shoulder is incredibly forgiving and full of flavour because it is a fattier cut of meat.
- This one was well trimmed and not that fatty, and much of the fat had rendered into the broth it was cooked in.
- The collagen was all broken down and nothing was chewy or gelatinous. The fat was moist, tender and well marbled in the meat.
- Again, this was not gamey at all. It was really fork tender and I didn’t hit a dry piece and I ate half the portion.
- I think the lamb was braised in lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, spices and herbs and the flavours were very simple and natural.
- I couldn’t taste any apparent herbs and spices, but it was still savoury and not salty.
- The Greek lemon potatoes were only mildly lemony, but they were tender and the flesh nice and smooth.
- I prefer very lemony infused Greek potatoes so I wouldn’t mind more lemon in these.
- My favourite Greek potatoes so far are from Jim’s Greek Taverna in Surrey, although it has been a while since I’ve been.
- The rice pilaf was on the bland side and I think this could get better with more lemon, garlic, dill and herbs.
- There are so many versions of Greek rice pilaf and this was the most basic one.
- I think there could have been a better rice pilaf served with the lamb since there was no sauce.
- Vanilla custard wrapped in warm buttery filo pastry topped with honey syrup, icing sugar and cinnamon $5.50 with vanilla ice cream $6.50
- If I knew it had the vanilla ice cream option I would have added that, although that’s not traditional.
- Bougasta is actually a breakfast or snack food popular in Northern Greece and the fillings can be sweet or savoury.
- It is a warm phyllo pastry and cousin to baklava, but in North America it is often served as the dessert.
- This vanilla lemon semolina custard filling is the most popular one.
- It is a pretty rich and filling dessert.
- It is crispy and also a bit chewy and it gets quite sweet since it is soaked in honey syrup.
- It is made with layers of buttery phyllo pastry and the inside is filled with a semolina custard.
- The semolina custard is made from eggs, butter, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon zest.
- The lemon is very faint though and it is not meant to be a lemon curd.
- The custard was a bit clumpy and stiff, so I wasn’t too keen on the texture which was more solidified than creamy as it should be.
- It was finished with a dusting of cinnamon and icing sugar which is traditional.
- It wasn’t bad, but I’ve had other versions of it I’ve enjoyed more.
- Honey drenched malba toast topped with vanilla custard, whipping cream, slivered almonds and cinnamon $5.50
- I love Ekmek Kadayıfı, but this was just Ekmek and it was a simplified version.
- Ekmek is traditionally a Turkish dessert, but the Greeks adapted the recipe by adding Kadayifi (finely shredded phyllo pastry).
- Think of Ekmek as the Greek version of bread pudding meets a trifle.
- Typically it is served chilled, but this one was half warm and half cold which is unusual.
- This was a “short-cut” version of Ekmek Kadayıfı and I just bet they make a killer one at home.
- The bottom layer was soaked white bread, and traditionally it should be soaked Kadayifi.
- The bread is soaked in sugar water and lemon juice.
- The next layer is supposed to be a creamy vanilla semolina custard thickened with eggs and cream.
- This one was almost like a milky jello pudding and it was solidified from perhaps too much cornstarch and/or flour.
- The top layer is supposed to be whipped cream and a sprinkle of pistachios or almonds (almonds are more affordable and thus more commonly used).
- It would be even better if the whipped cream was made in house and I would have loved more almonds.
- The quality of this could get better, so I wouldn’t say this represents an Ekmek at its best.
- Personally I prefer the Ekmek at Pasparo’s, but hopefully in the future I can get one just as good here.
Aw! That’s my high school teacher’s (Nicki) restaurant! Haha, thank you for helping me find out where it is, she kept it from her students 😛
Anyways, I’ve never been a fan of Greek food, but this actually looks very appetizing. Especially the fried cheese and lamb chops. Guess I’ll be making a trip there for the food and Nicki.
Greek cooking is another misunderstood cuisine(as simple, plain and hearty fare), which when done right is magnificent. The best cook book I read lately was by :http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g60713-d353917-Reviews-Kokkari_Estiatorio-San_Francisco_California.html, who take this cuisine to another level. Stephos is NOT the apex of Greek food. Sfinaki’s food looks like it is much better executed and detailed. Mijune, you also like the tamara and keftedes, !!! nice. The lamb chops are a generous serving, thanks for the review.
@Katie – lol really?!?! Uh oh… well…. surprise!!! 🙂 She is SO sweet!!! They all are! Try the cheese and chops!
Nicki – if you’re reading this… I’m so sorry!!! Your food is delicious and your brother is a great cook… your students need to try it!
Great post, Mijune.
Sfinaki has made its mark in Burnaby Heights for the past almost 20 years. Esp. since the change of ownership at Cristo’s (the other Greek restaurant along Hastings, at Alpha St) a few years ago which seemed to have led to their (Cristo’s) decline in quality.
We’ve been to Sfinaki twice, and while the overall dining experience (and the staff) were positive, we found their pricing disproportionate. What I mean by that is we felt their higher-than-average prices are more reflective of certain westside Greek restos (Athene’s, Acropol, Apollonia, Maria’s come to mind). It’s complicated to compare neighbourhoods as location in itself is not the sole factor in food pricing these days. But somehow we felt Sfinaki was lacking a je-ne-sais-quois. The kleftiko and kalamari (2 dishes I use to benchmark Greek restaurants) are ok but not spectacular, and apologies for saying this, but a kleftiko served “de-boned” is just WRONG ! The shoulder bone socket, cartilage, connective tissues and all other bits are where the flavours are at too.
If I have to use my last best three kleftikos as a guide, then they’d be, in random order: Panos, Stepho’s (yes really), Athene’s.
Anyway there’s my rant 🙂
This is the imposter! (Denny’s Fiancé)
I really enjoyed your post. Finally Niki’s big secret is out. LOL
Looking forward to Crave The Heights!
@Crystal – oohh!! Hi Crystal! I’m going to fill in your name now. I wish I got to meet you! Love the team work! Denny is a great cook! You must eat well all the time!!! Jealous.
@Bow – Greek food in Greece is SUPER simple, but the ingredients are literally grown in their backyards so everything is just so fresh. Tastes so different than what we have… our resources are limited and catered to Canadian tastes like much ethnic cuisine. The lamb chops were actually special order so I should specify that. Thanks for the reminder Bow!
@LR – I actually want to try Cristo’s too! Have you been? Also, totally fair that you have certain things you judge Greek restaurants by (tastes are so personal)… but deep fried kalamari is more of an American thing… so it’s like judging a Chinese restaurant on their sweet and sour pork kind of thing. Judging them on the Kleftiko I can understand 🙂 Just my personal opinion, hope you’re not offended.
Pano’s was good when I went too… you need to try Pasparo’s in North Van… probably my favourite so far.
@Mijune – Yes I’ve been to Cristo’s but that was << year 2000 and I really don't have any meaningful memory of them, other than I was with a group of people and um, well, I had a few beers …….. [static]
Actually kalamari/calamari are flash-fried in Europe with less thick batter like they do here. But the Greeks themselves prefer grilled squid marinated and/or brushed with ouzo, and lemme tell ya, that was all the squid we had in Greece and it's waaaay better than having them fried (but I like all things fried anyway). Sadly grilled squid is rarely found on Greek menus in Vancouver for reasons I just don't understand. At any rate, the quality and freshness of the squid and how they're fried (100% authentic or not) does allow it to be a measuring stick of sorts to compare Greek restaurants (at least their kitchen skills). I know what you mean, S&S Pork is not 100% authentic as a long-established traditional dish in China, but the fact that superior kitchens can produce better S&S pork than meh or bad kitchens also make the dish an ad-hoc dish for comparison purposes, somewhat analogous to Cantonese ginger and onion steamed fish, Szechuan water-boiled fish, Shanghainese XLBs, Japanese tamago nigiri, French croissants, you get the idea.
Never heard of Pasparo’s, I'll keep that in my back pocket list of places to eat. If/when I'm in N. Van (rarely) I'd find myself eating at Yaas Bazaar or Savary Isld Pies. So thanks for that new lead for me 🙂
Hi Mijune. A good review of Sfiniki. I had been to this place three times and I agree with you about kalamari. Their grilled squid is the best! My friend and I had it at our first visit then we ordered kalamari. So disappointing so we ordered grilled squid on our third visit. 🙂 So delicious and different than many Greek places. Prices are definitely higher at this place for sure.
I am so surprised that you would recommend this restaurant. We went there once based on a review and found the place dirty and the food not very good it was poorly presented and just tasted bad. Was there some other motivation that got you to post a favourable review?
@Alice – Sorry to hear that. I just wrote based on my honest experience and opinion. It has excellent reviews online so I wanted to check it out myself and it delivered. Hope you have a better experience in the future, Alice!