Road Rage turns to Greek Comfort – Mama Voula’s

chicken souvlaki

Mama Voula’s
11923 Santa Monica Boulevard (@ Brockton)
West Los Angeles, CA
310.478.9464

He was sick, so I offered to pick up dinner for us. That is so nice of me. I could have made dinner, but it was already 8:30, and given the way I make dinner, he’d lose 15 pounds by the time I had something on the table. So I headed down Washington Boulevard to pick up a very healthy, warm, healing dinner for my sick friend – Tito’s Tacos. *giggle*

But thankfully for the germs, Tito’s was packed. Packed, I suppose, isn’t quite the right term, since that implies there were people inside Tito’s. No, the front of Tito’s Tacos’ stand was your basic giant clusterf#$% (please pardon the language, but truly, there is no other way to describe it). I had neither the patience nor the energy to look for parking somewhere along the very sketchy underpass after dark, then to stand in said clusterf#$%. I don’t like waiting lines. In fact, I hate waiting in lines. But I really reallyreallyreally hate clusterf#$%s even more. I just don’t like the uncertainty of it all. At least with lines, I know whether or not I am making progress. There is neither rhyme nor reason to clusterf#$%s. They give me anxiety attacks.

So I kept driving, and ended up on Sepulveda with the hare-brained idea that tonight would be the night I would pop my (and his) Zankou Chicken cherry. I do that sometimes. Get hare-brained ideas (not pop cherries – tsk tsk). Too bad that Zankou was overflowing. That’s not an exaggeration. People were quite literally overflowing out of the restaurant into the parking lot, which should actually be called a parking little. There was a big black Benz pulled into the driveway, and its big bad Benz ass was sticking out into Sepulveda Boulevard. I wanted to hit it as I drove by, but then I thought about mobsters with guns, so I didn’t.

Then off to Ambala Dhaba to try homestyle Indian cooking, and a good way to get in another post possibility for LAist‘s Delicious Spree. Well, I guess everyone writes for LAist now. Either that or there was a horrible multi-car accident on the 405 that blocked all lanes and re-directed traffic to surface streets, backing up traffic along Santa Monica Boulevard with road enraged drivers who wouldn’t let me make a left turn into Ambala Dhaba’s driveway. Darn them. Darn them all to heck! At least I felt better knowing that they would be starving in their cars on their very late, very long commute home, too. *evil cackle*

Options were running out. I was headed back up Santa Monica Boulevard (after a very illegal and almost accident-inducing u-turn or two) and I saw the orange and yellow sign that so often comforts me at 4 am with naughty noshes. Benito’s. I am not ashamed to admit that I lurve (not love, but luuuuuurve) Benito’s. But he’s sick, so I had to get something healthy and nourishing. I mean, that’s why I thought of Tito’s in the first place. *sheesh* I kept driving. But very slowly so I could stare longingly at Benito’s for a bit.

Mama Voula's sign
a bright sign in a seedy strip mall

So after an unsuccessful tour around West LA, I finally ended up at Mama Voula’s. It was perfect. What shoots down those wicked little germs better than a meal from Mama? Only prescription drugs, but I don’t have a Sav-on pharmacist in my purse like those ladies in the commercial, so Greek cuisine it would be.

Located in an almost-seedy strip mall in West LA, Mama Voula’s is sort of a joint and sort of a restaurant. It opened within the last year, and thank goodness, because Greek options on the Westside are very limited. It’s small, with fewer than a dozen tables, but it’s clean and inside, and decorated like a Greek place – white walls and furniture, Aegean Sea blue trim in that obviously Greek squared spiral, lemons, and ivy. The kitchen is completely open like a diner, as I think that’s what the space was in a former life.

Mama Voula is a real person, though I don’t think she actually runs the place. In fact, I’ve never actually seen her other than the picture on the menu, and the one on the bus bench off the 405-north exit ramp to Santa Monica Boulevard! She’s very Greek, so I was fairly surprised when an Asian girl who was running the place said Mama Voula is her mother. Hannah, I found out later, is Korean, and is married to Mama’s son, so Voula is her mother in law. LOL! A Korean girl running a Greek place. I knew kimchee goes with everything.

The food is based on Mama’s recipes, and when we first went there, Hannah told us that Mama comes in the mornings and actually makes some of the things like the spanakopita. I love spanakopita, and Hannah very generously gave us one to try. It’s not the kind that is baked like lasagna in a large pan then cut. They are individually made, a triangle about the size and shape of a Hostess cherry pie. It came out on a plate, sprinkled with cheese, but wasn’t very warm. I was a little disappointed with the phyllo pastry, which was soggy, even on top. Layered and flaky, yes, but they were soggy layers.

Despite the subpar pastry, the spinach filling was very well seasoned, though fairly moist, which is what I would guess caused the soggy pastry. The filling was also a bit sparse. My personal preference is for quite a bit of filling, which is how I make them at home. I suppose if Mama put more filling though, as moist as it is, it would dissolve right through the phyllo.

pita bread and tzatziki
pre-packaged pita bread

The tzatziki is cool and refreshing. They don’t put very much on each order, but that’s understandable since the food prices are already fairly low. The hummus is wonderfully creamy, though lacking a bit in the garlic department. Mama Voula’s doesn’t make their own pita bread. Perhaps at one time they did, but the cook behind the counter pulls pita bread out of a package. It’s thin and chewy, rather than thick and soft, and admittedly, I actually like the pita bread from the Greek chain restaurant, Daphne’s. *yikes!*

broccoli
crispy crunchy broccoli
lemon potatoes
totally tangy lemo
n potatoes

The meats and the vegetables are what I like at Mama Voula’s. The man at the fire is not Greek, but he obviously knows what he’s doing. He’s fast, and the hot food he turns out is good. Both the chicken and beef souvlaki are seasoned well, cooked just right, and come out tender. An additional spritz of lemon makes it perfect. Salads are fresh, and vegetables are just barely cooked to bring out the color. They’re still crispy crunchy. These vegetables are drizzled with a white sauce, that I can’t identify. It might be a variation of the tzatziki, though thinner and with the addition of a few more dark colored spices. Dinner and lunch plates come with roasted potatoes, which look very plain, one bite and I have to wonder if they soaked the potatoes in lemon juice all night. Very tangy.

We had some meatball-like things, but I don’t quite remember what they were called on the menu, or if they were even offered on the menu. They were a little bit dry, but still deliciously seasoned.

The gyros would be good, but again, the pita bread is what makes it a little bit disappointing. The lamb meat inside though, tastes just fine dipped by itself in the tzatziki. And that’s from me – I don’t eat lamb. Rather than getting a gyro, it might be better to just get a lamb dinner or lunch plate. Ah, but then it doesn’t come with fries, which are delicious here. They’re long and thin, a little soggy in the center, and crispy, but not dark on the ends. A whole plate of greek fries is sprinkled with salt, oregano, and something else (maybe parsley?), and though you could use ketchup, why? Dip the fries in the tzatziki!

Mama Voula’s isn’t mind-boggling food. But since it’s on the Westside, the staff are friendly and welcoming, and it’s relatively inexpensive, it’s a pretty good option for Greek food.

And thank goodness for Mama Voula, otherwise, we’d have been road enraged and starving.

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  • elmomonster

    I learned a new word from you!

    “Clutterf#$%!!!!”

    Love it!

  • Helen (AugustusGloop)

    That chicken looks sensational! Yum!

  • sarah

    LOL! it’s a horrible word, isn’t it, but it just so perfectly describes the mess of people in front of tito’s tacos, as well as, um…those silly velvet rope club in hollywood ;)

  • Xericx

    Ahh…the Westside Crawl. Gotta love it…I’ve been to Mama Voulas about 3-4 times, I like it for basic greek food. Last time I got a chicken or lamb dish I didn’t particularly like, but I really liked their gyros.

    I also liked their Hummus, and IIRC the toasted pita was a nice touch.

  • sarah

    hm, xericx…i actually didn’t love the gyro – and it was because of the pita! sort of too thin and bit chewy. i love pita that is thick and soft, and how horrible is this – i love it when they grill it with TONS of oil so that it’s practically fried LOL!

  • Xericx

    If my memory serves me right….

    I do recall the pita kind of falling apart on the gyro…I liked the fillings though. I don’t get the chance to eat Greek food all that often around town though.

    Sounds like you want a Chalupa Gyro… :)

  • hermz

    Tito’s lines aren’t that bad. You just have to know how it works. I’ll show you sometime.

  • sarah

    that’s the point, herr hermz. it’s not a line. it’s a gigantissimo cluster poop.

    how do i get on the vip list for tito’s?!? LOL!

  • hermz

    But I must say… there are lines. It just looks like a cluster at first. If you insist upon there being only one line, then I retort that supermarkets don’t work that way… you pick a line and you get in it. Same thing at Tito’s.

  • Jill

    Hi. I would like to make friends with people who enjoy indian cooking. I’ve joined this site (indian cooking) to try to meet some new friends but I wondered if you knew of any other such sites.
    Many thanks

  • Anonymous

    Just a couple of comments about Mama Voula’s food. I’m Greek, so I can critique, though I don’t mean to rhyme.

    Good spanakopita does not need cheese on top. It should have feta (and a secret: cottage cheese) inside and be buttery with a nice taste of dill, green onion and parsely and/or mint. There are variations on it; however, a sprinking of cheese on top or served with marina sauce for dipping are truly American variations. They make me want to gag. Soggy means it was nuked. Phyllo dough does not nuke well; it turns soggy. If you make a pan, reheat leftovers in the oven. The phyllo will be crisp and it will taste just as good, if not better, than when it was first made.

    Greeks overcook vegetables. It’s just the way they do them, maybe with roasted potatoes being the exception. Crisp broccoli? No, no, no, no! Steam broccoli until very tender, ok, soft, and then dress with olive oil and fresh lemon, a bit of salt and pepper. Do the same with cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Don’t turn up your nose until you’ve tasted it. Whenever I serve these vegetables to folks who’ve never had them this way, the comments are always the same, “These are delicious.”

    Pita bread, too, is pretty much an American add-on. The bread I grew up on was a big round loaf with sesame seeds on top, hearty and wholesome to soak up the avgolemeno on dolmades, or the oil and vinegar left at the bottom of your salad bowl. I’m a bit suspicious of pita bread.

    Very few Greek restaurants get the food right.

    Anna

  • sarah

    anna: i will totally take your word on greek food! i am not so hot on mint in savory foods e.g. spanakopita, but i feel you on the marinara sauce. do people actually DO that? yikes. (of course, i am obscene with deep-fried mozzarella and marinara)

  • sarah

    anna: i will totally take your word on greek food! i am not so hot on mint in savory foods e.g. spanakopita, but i feel you on the marinara sauce. do people actually DO that? yikes. (of course, i am obscene with deep-fried mozzarella and marinara)

  • Anonymous

    Sarah,
    A friend told me she had spanakopita at a restaurant, as an appitizer, and it was served with marina to dip in. It was not at a Greek restaurant and I think it was in Oregon or Washington, probably attempting a big-city chic with the combination. Of course, I almost fell off my chair when I read her email, but I’m guessing if the spanakopita is sub-standard, it’s a way of giving it some flavor, though the idea alone almost horrifies me.

    Mint is somewhat regional in Greek cooking, more popular in the south than in the north. I happen to adore it in savory dishes, but then it shouldn’t scream its presence, but be more of a sublte undertone. It’s also wonderful in dolmades, the grape leaves stuffed with ground meat and rice. I also use it when I stuff vegetables like tomatoes or peppers with rice and gound meat. It’s a good way to flavor something that would otherwise be somewhat bland and boring. Again, the flavor shouldn’t be screaming, humming is more like it, if that makes any sense?

    Though I’ve never had deep fried mozzarella with marina for dipping, it sounds wonderful!
    Anna

  • Katethecook

    Very nice review, but sadly Mama Voula’s closed shortly after this review appeared, and we still miss it,and that we despite very good reviews and great business.

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