Once, as I was walking across the intersection of 30th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, a carload of tourists at a stoplight asked me for a great place to eat in Boulder. My answer was a favorite little joint in a shopping center right nearby, an intimate place with great wine and equally fabulous food. The tourists were visibly put off by the location — a shopping center, they echoed? No, they wanted something “nicer” than that. I repeated that the restaurant was one of my favorites in town, but also gave them the name of a different, well-known upscale eatery, which they found much more acceptable. They thanked me, and I was happy to oblige knowing they would truly enjoy their choice.
But I walked home thinking that some of Boulder’s best eats can be found tucked inside shopping centers throughout town.
Kalita Grill Greek Cafe is yet another example.
Along the perimeter of the Arapahoe Village Shopping Center (also home to Tiffins, another shopping center gem of Boulder) is Kalita, a straightforward café serving up some of the tastiest Greek food in town.
Kalita means beautiful in Greek, which is the adjective the family owners of the restaurant want patrons to use to describe their dining experience. Beautiful is an apt descriptor, but I would also use scrumptious, casual, quick, simple and pleasing to express my thoughts on grabbing a bit to eat at Kalita.
It’s a classic café, as all of the eatery’s in that shopping center are: Order at the counter, grab a drink from the cooler or the soda fountain, pick up some silverware and napkins, and then snag a seat and wait — but not very long — for your order. It’s brightly lit, with perhaps a dozen tables. There are sometimes students quietly munching on spanokopita and dolmas while they read or work on their laptops, and folks wander in and back out to pick up to-go orders.
Kalita serves an array of traditional Greek dishes: gyros, beef shawarma, falafel, babaganush, hummus, tabule salad, avgalemono and lentil soups, and of course, the aforementioned spanakopita and dolmas (meat or veggie).
If your fancy is to get a little taste of everything, I suggest grabbing a combo plate, either veggie or meat.
A sucker for falafel, I went with the veggie combo plate, which serves up healthy scoops of hummus and babaganush, tabule, a couple of falafel balls, warm pita bread, a tiny Greek salad with tzatziki dressing and two veggie dolmas (often called stuffed grape leaves or dolmades).
This is a plate that begs to be licked clean. It delivers on each individual item, but the most telling dish at a Greek restaurant, for me, is the falafel.
Falafel can be a tough dish to get just right; chickpeas blended with onion, parsley, garlic and various spices, falafel runs the risk of being dry, which is just a tragedy to eat. Biting into a dry falafel saps the moisture right out of the mouth. It’s hard to swallow, and nearly impossible to spit out. This is a fate wished only on those you truly hate.
But there is no tragedy at Kalita. This is exemplary falafel, moist and flavorful. They are accentuated by a dip into Kalita’s smoky and perfectly chunky babaganush (an eggplant dip if you’re unfamiliar), or the smooth and lightly garlicky flavor of their homemade hummus, which gets its own smoky flavor from a sprinkling of paprika.
Diced cucumber and just the right amount of dill makes for a stocky and refreshing tzatziki dressing for the salad, while the veggie dolmas — stuffed with minty rice and softened by soaking in olive oil — act almost as palette cleansers between bites of this and that.
Kalita proves once again that some of Boulder’s best dining experiences can be found in unexpected places.
Kalita Grill Creek Cafe. 2426 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-443-0596.