Austin isn’t particularly abound with Greek restaurants (though there are plenty of general Mediterranean spots). So when Yamas opened in the Highland Park West neighborhood in June, fans of the coastal southeastern European country flocked to the restaurant. Co-owners and couple Roxie and Hristos Nikolakos — who are Greek themselves — tapped chef Dimitrios Kelesoglou to develop the menu, spanning traditional dishes, classics served in unexpected formats, and more.
Here’s the scene at Yamas at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday in mid-September
The vibe: When we sat down for dinner, the dining room crowd was a nice mix of diners: people with their grandparents, friend groups catching up, families with children. The physical indoor space is bright and airy with huge windows letting in a lot of natural light during the daytime. It’s also very pretty — I witnessed many couples and groups taking photos outside in front of the floral display around the door.
As the night went on, the energy became more busy and club-like, with dimmer lighting, blue underlighting, and louder music, making it a perfect bachelorette destination. The demographics also changed, with more large party groups and couples on dates. When the restaurant celebrated special occasions for diners (someone got engaged, there was a birthday), they’d play a song and present a dish with sparklers in bottles. That being said, it’s not done in an obnoxious way.
What to drink: The cocktails make use of two popular Greek spirits: ouzo and mastiha. The latter lends an herbal woodsy (in a good way) taste to beverages, including my Yamas cocktail, which was rounded out by lime, mint, and sage. There are also a lot of Greek wines, including an array of whites. If you’re lucky, the co-owners flit around the room, checking in on guests and sometimes offering what they dub the Yamas shot. The name of the restaurant is actually the term for “cheers” in Greek.
On the menu, the seafood: Hands down, where Yamas shines are its seafood dishes. The grilled whole branzino is simple and bright, made with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juices. The giant scallops are plump and tender, served in savory dill sauce atop a tomato. Most entrees in the $30 to $40 range come with enough food to share between two people.
On the menu, the other dishes: The spanakopita — that classic Green spinach dish— is great, served in an eggroll-type shape, which makes dipping in the feta tzatziki sauce. For a side, we opted for lemon potatoes, essentially wedges of tender potatoes doused in lemon juice. The simple marouli salad — lettuce, feta, scallions, dill, and lemon oil — helped round out the meal. For dessert, the galaktoboureko is the clear winner, a Greek sort of bread pudding-ish custard dish that was rich and sweet.
Yes, there’s a magician: When I initially heard that there would be a magician performing that night, I was skeptical. But it turned out to be more fun than I expected. The magician, who is actually co-owner Roxie Nikolakos’s brother, stood in front of the bar and performed a trick with a live bird. He then goes over to each group to conduct a different (and quick) magic trick — ours was a fun little card number.
Why go: Yamas serves delicious Greek food in a beautiful space, something needed in Austin. Go earlier if you’re looking for a great meal and drinks; go later if you want fun party vibes along with the food and drinks.