If you find yourself eating brunch or dinner at Kiki’s Greek Restaurant on Manhattan’s Division Street, it’s because you were looking for it. Kiki’s is not exactly the type of place you just stumble upon, unless you frequently amble around the meandering side streets of Chinatown and enter into nameless café façades. But, who needs a sign out front when you already know everyone on the block?
Nick Spanos opened up Kiki’s with his wife, the restaurant’s namesake, four months ago and brought with him a team from the already established Forgetmenot on the same block of Division Street. While both restaurants offer Mediterranean-style cuisine, Spanos wanted to get back to the roots of his upbringing. He wanted to serve the traditional food and drink his family knew growing up in Greece.
To understand Kiki’s, it is essential to first realize that they do not participate in any form of advertising. When it comes to measuring success, Spanos would rather the restaurant fail than be forced to commercialize. “We look out for the neighborhood first,” he affirmed in an interview with Travel Dose. Spend an hour at the copper bar of Kiki’s and you will quickly gain an understanding of this principle. Every five minutes, friends and family are stopping by, a flurry of hugs and handshakes are exchanged, perhaps a brief conversation over a cup of coffee, until the process soon repeats itself as a new face walks through the door.
Everything about Kiki’s is warm and welcoming. In the summertime, the walls open up to allow a soft breeze to weave its way through the nooks and crannies of the sinuous dining rooms. Old family photos line the walls alongside portraits of famous Greek celebrities, including the stunning Karezi Tzeri and other glamorous stars from an era past. Feel free to grab a table and stay as long as you’d like – the staff will never pressure you to leave.
Ideology is everything. To dine at Kiki’s means becoming part of the family for the day. “You won’t find any hummus or lettuce-based Greek salads like you might in your local Greek diner,” Spanos laughed. All of the dishes at Kiki’s are 100% authentic Greek delicacies. The beer and wine selection is all imported directly from Greece. The design is of a genuine functionality rather than forced rusticity.
Who needs hummus when there’s taramasalata? The creamy blend of potato and fish roe blows the garbanzo bean away. A succulent anise, ouzo cream sauce is the centerpiece of various pasta dishes. Large servings of grilled lamb, loukaniko and fresh branzino are plopped down in the middle of the table and eaten family-style. If you decide to come for brunch, don’t miss the Greek egg toast, complete with diced horiatiki salad and a vibrant sunny-side up egg. There is no freezer anywhere on the premises, insuring that all of the food is freshly prepared.
Staff and customers alike appear to be enjoying every moment spent at Kiki’s. The feeling is contagious, which is perhaps the reason that Spanos needs no promotion to attract guests to Kiki’s. The Forgetmenot crew has created a collective cult of personality on the otherwise hidden leg of Division Street. If you happen to find yourself in the area, feel free to stop in for an hour or six.