Stepping into Theo's Restaurant is an experience in itself. Walking down main street in Penticton... you see the grape vines, the Theo's sign, and the flickering candlelight from the wood panelled windows - but walking into the front doors of Theo's is like walking out of British Columbia and right onto the Greek island of Crete - where the history of this famous Okanagan restaurant all started. Theo and Mary Theodosakis (both with roots in Crete) first opened the doors to this restaurant in 1976 - at a time where authentic Greek cuisine was extremely ambitious for Penticton. Since the restaurants opening, it has not only embraced the theme of home-made Greek cuisine...but also of culture, family, and of food being a fully rounded experience. As a traveller and a blogger - this is why I love doing what I do. This is not merely a restaurant serving food....this is a restaurant with a story. A beautiful, wonderful, heart-warming story. The energy of Theos is heavy with nostalgia...intensified by the beautiful candid family photos lining the walls. It's not hard to see why Theo's is considered a Penticton tradition. This is truly a special place.
Mary & Theos son Nikos, and his wife Linda are now at the forefront of the business, working alongside Mary and Theo. When we arrive for our reservation, Nikos greets us at the front door and we are quickly seated in what could easily be mistaken for a dining room in a Greek home (at least - what I would imagine). It's completed with white concrete walls, a fire-place, wood beams and sits under the extended "Romeo & Juliet" balcony (where many Okanagan couples have become engaged). Beautiful. Our server Sarah greets us and offers the wine menu. I immediately see one of my favourite local Okanagan wineries Jackson Triggs on the menu, so I go for their decadent Shiraz while Kris opts for the Peller Estates Merlot. We discuss the menu with Sarah who is calm and sweet, and she also knows this menu like the back of her hand. She gracefully suggests dishes based on my vegetarian requirements and explained Theo's signature favourites including house-made Moussaka (layered sliced eggplant, zucchini, potatoes and spiced ground beef), Lagos Stifatho (Organic Okanagan Rabbit) and Lamb Shoulder Oregano to Kris the carnivore. We made our selections and started to get really excited. Every table is full and there is a line-up out the door. Always a good sign of what is to come - and we were able to subtly eye up our neighbours plates while waiting for our first course. Everything looked amazing.
Every meal at Theo's begins with fresh, goo-ey buns with a small bowl filled with a garlic, herb & sun-dried tomato dipping sauce. It is light, fresh, so delicious, and small enough to leave us anxiously awaiting our second course. Very good introduction.
As a starter - I went with the Vegetarian Dolmathakia, one of our server Sarah's personal favourites. Their Dolmathakia is stuffed with rice, currents, mint, dill, pine-nuts, cinnamon and is served with Linda's home-made Greek yogurt. I was so excited when I first bit into this amazing dish. The setting of the restaurant was so unique and special - I was hopeful that the food lived up to the atmosphere and ambience. It did. This was the perfect flavour combination - and Theo's even uses their own grape leaves when possible to give this dish a personal touch. Delicious.
Kris went for the Dako, which really highlighted for us how much care and thoughtfulness the family puts into their ingredients. Dako is a recipe that is hundreds of years old and the rusks (twice-baked, or dry bread) for Theo's Dako are imported directly from Chania, Crete. In traditional fashion, the bread is softened upon order. It is sprinkled with water & red wine, and then topped with fresh garlic, tomato, macedonian feta and olive oil. Sitting atop the Dako is a sprig of Wild Mountain Oregano, also imported from Crete. It makes the dish interactive - explains Nikos. While you are crushing your own oregano and allowing it to fall on your Dako, you are involving yourself with your food, and the history and culture behind it. What a lovely dish - and the flavour? Phenomenal. The boldness of the Wild Mountain Oregano is blended perfectly with the soft, crumbly and mild macedonia feta. Incredibly well done.
I couldn't resist having the Beet Salad as my main. I have both a major addiction to beets as well as garlic, so a salad served with both (the garlic was whole, roasted garlic cloves) on a bed of greens with fresh macedonian feta screamed my name. It was AMAZING. The beets were soft & mildly seasoned which was perfect with the soft feta. The roasted garlic cloves were bursting with flavour, and were the perfect accent. This has everything you would want out of a salad, and more. Spectacular.
Kris went for one of Theo's famous dishes - the Lamb Shoulder Oregano. They say a picture is worth a thousand words - and this picture says it all. Cooked to perfection, the tender meat was accented gorgeously by its seasoning and it's accompanying sauce of garlic, lemon and mustard was genius. I had to take Kris' word on this one - but he is a very tough food critic and he said this is the BEST lamb he has ever had. That's right folks - the best. I DID get a chance to steal a few bites of his sides - rice pilaf, roast potatoes and veggies - and they were killer. Well played Theo's, well played.
For dessert - we had a very hard time deciding between the incredible looking Baklava that our neighbours were sharing, or trying out the house-made ice cream. After Sarah told me about the dairy-free (vegan) Mango-Basil Ice Cream, I couldn't help but give such a creative dish a try. Kris also opted for ice cream - he went for the Mayan Chocolate. The difference in quality of a home-made ice cream is immeasurable. I snuck a bite of Kris' (not without a fight) and it was so decadent and full of flavour. Kris was silent and I respected the quiet time he needed with his dessert! He was a very happy man. As for the vegan Mango-Basil... it was just as unique and creative in flavour as it sounds. It was fruity, sweet, and refreshing with a nice kick from the basil. So addicting!
In short - the food at Theo's is undoubtably phenomenal - but what really sets it apart is the ambience and overall energy of culture and family. While I definitly recommend Theo's if you are in the Okanagan area - so will everyone else in town - so be sure to make a reservation. I hope you enjoy as much as we did!
A huge special thanks to Nikos, Linda, Sarah and Trina for making our visit such a special one.
We love to hear from you! Have you been to a restaurant that was way more than just a food experience?! Let me know below or send me a tweet @wayfaretrail or reach out on instagram @wayfaretrail