(617) 868-9098
Desfina Restaurant 4 stars based on 81 reviews


Desfina Rated Among the Best in Boston

By Theodore Kalmoukos

— Boston Magazine has declared Desfina Restaurant one of the best restaurants in Boston for 2011. Desfina is located on 202 Third Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near the prominent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
     Desfina has a huge variety of the freshest fish as well as authentic Greek dishes such pastitsio, mousaka, souvlaki, spinach pie, and gyros.
     Desfina’s owner, Stathis Malakis, told The National Herald that "I am extremely happy for this distinction of Boston Magazine, which as you know has a huge circulations and is very prominent in Boston."
     Mr. Malakis had not known ahead of time that the magazine was going to include Desfina in its Best Restaurants of 2011 issue. A customer who saw the magazine alerted him and he rushed to the newsstand and bought some copies.
     He told TNH that "it seems the magazine’s writers came here, they had dinner, they observed the entire function of the store, they checked the quality of the food and the service, and they decided to include us in their issue." He added "I am grateful to Boston Magazine."
     With a sense of pride, Mr. Malakis proclaimed that "this is the second time that Boston Magazine has chosen us. The first time was in 2007." He also said that "The Proper Bostonian wrote about us twice in 2010."
     Many of Malakis’ customers go to Desfina to have dinner to celebrate happy and noteworthy occasions. He added that "the Americans like this type of pub-
Desfina, located near MIT, offers everything from gyros and pastitsio to fresh fish. Owner Stathis Malakis (left) named the eatery after his village in Greece.

     Many Greek—Americans visit Desfina two and even three times a week. He said "Greeks like fish a lot. On Wednesdays we have many Armenians."
     Desfina opened in 1998. Malakis said "I named it after my village in Greece. Many American customers are asking me about the name and I explain to them where my village near the city of Alfissa is. They do not have any difficulty to pronounce it correctly and believe me I am thrilled to hear them saying Desfina’s name." Malakis added "when I visit my village in Greece my co-patriots tell me congratulations because you made our village famous in America."
     Although he has 16 employees working at Desfina, Malakis personally works 15 hours per day "You cannot achieve anything if you do not work hard" he said.
licity" and that "we are very busy, thank God we are doing very well. We did not experience any decline."
     Desfina is open from Monday to Saturday Mr. Malakis said "we are busy at lunchtime because there many offices around here, MIT, the Court House, and at night we have a lot of families who come from everywhere for fresh fish."
Boston Magazine Aug. 2011 pg. 148

You won't find modern, four-star Greek cuisine at this hole in the wall.

But in an oddly delightful way, it reminds us of every humble neighborhood taverna we've savored in Greece, from the blue-and-white paper place mats to the scattered but amiable service. The tzatziki is a house specialty, the moussaka hearty and delicious, the horiatiki a true Greek salad - all plates so tasty, we'd be loath to smash a single one.
Take-out & catering a specialty.

"Hidden Cambridge"
  by Erin Byers Murray and Kim Girard
  Grilled varieties are on the menu at DESFINA, a quaint
  brick hangout on the corner behind the courthouse,
  which also dishes up traditional Greek fare like
  tzatziki, dolmades and lamb kebab. Owner Steve
  Mallakis has run the place for 14 years.

Greek       DESFINA
202 Third St. Cambridge,
617-868-9098, desfina.com
Nowadays a lot of trendy kitchens are “interpreting” Greek classics. Hole-in-the-wall Desfina, by contrast, cooks up classics that taste just as they would at an Athens taverna. The pikilia, an appetizer plate with a handful of flavors, boasts a wonderfully tangy tzatziki. The grilled octopus app, zesty with lemon, will turn first-time tentacle tasters into devotees. And there’s plenty to go around: The first course eats like a meal in itself.

GREEK DINING at Desfina 202 Third St., Cambridge, 617-868-9098
In the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the character Gus Portokalos says, “There are two kinds of people—Greeks, and everyone else who [wishes] they [were] Greek.” That’s certainly so with anyone who tastes the delicious food at this traditional Cambridge eatery. Named after a town in Greece, it’s decorated with long tapestries and pastel blue walls that transport you to the Old Country. Don’t be alarmed by the loud voices coming from the kitchen — that’s the customary good-natured bickering of the chefs. Their signature appetizer is served with a side of entertainment: The Saganaki OPA! is a thick wedge of kefalograviera cheese that’s floured, fried and set ablaze at your table, leaving a nice dipping sauce for bread. For your main course, there’s a variety of moderately priced meat entrées as well as old family recipes like the mousaka, sautéed eggplant and ground meat topped with béchamel sauce. Don’t forget to save room for the mouth-watering homemade baklava. The enthusiastic (and yes, loud) staff will ply you with food, but don’t bother asking for the secret family recipes.

Greece is the word

     Beyond that, dinners were unremarkable. The roast lamb ($8.50) looks wonderful in the kitchen - a big knot of meat netted with vegetables and herbs - but on the plate, it's just a giant slab of meat served with long, soft slices of roasted yellow potato. I'd certainly recommend this if you like, say, pot roast; it's a lot more flavorful and a wonderful bargin. A dish called "pastichio" ($6.75) is a slice of macaroni pie not dissimilar to moussaka; noodles under ground lamb under bechémal sauce. It was surprisingly sweet but otherwise seemed underflavored.
     You can distinguish the desserts by their toppings: the baklava ($2.25) has a fluffy phyllo-dough top, and the kataifi ($2.25) is topped with a bird's nest of shredded wheat. Underneath each is the same sweet mixture of chopped nuts and pastry. There's a wine and beer menu, and for $4 you can
BY STEPHEN HEUSER You can learn, a lot about Greece from the place mats at Desfina. Crowded onto each sheet of crinkly paper are a drawing of the Parthenon, a map or Greece, and a history lesson.
"Western Civilization and Democracy were developed by the Ancient Greeks,: it says. "Aristotle argued that the earth is round 1800 yers before Columbus. Hippocrates was the father of Modern Medicine."
     You can learn a lot about Greek food from this book I found in the library: The Foods of Greece, by an Athenian journalist named Aglaia Kremezi. It's a wonderful coffee-table affair that paints a glowing picture of a cuisine of mint and feta and parsley, of roast lamb and eggs and seafood, of fresh cheese and hand-cracked green olives.
     You can forget all that stuff, though, when you sit down to dinner at Desfina, a cozy little taverna tucked behind the Cambridge courthouse. There are only two things you need to know here; one, Greek restaurant food bears only a slight resemblance to country cuisine. And two, at Desfina a man will come to your table and light a piece of cheese on fire.
     It's true. Just when you think you've seen every novelty food in the book - when you've had your fourth purple potato salad, your second ostrich fillet, your third fish- on-a-plank - well, just then, along comes the waiter at a tiny Greek joint with a cigarette lighter and a slab of fried sheep's-milk cheese doused in 151-proof liquor, and whoof! You're a kid again. The blue fire dances around the plate. The edges of the cheese sear into a guilty pleasure, like the crusty bottom of a fondue pot. The old guys at the bar clap. Desfina isn't exactly going to revolutionize Greek cooking as it's understood in the United States of America, but boy, did it score with that cheese.
     It scored with the place mats, too. I now know that there are 100 lipta to the drachma; that the leading manufactured products in Greece are clothing and cigarettes: and that in 1984, when the place mat was probably printed, 59 percent of the Greek population was rural.
     Greece is the opposite of America in that those 59 percent probably eat better than the 41 percent who live in cities. In my short experience eating in real live Greece, the rustic cuisine of fresh meats and cheeses and heavily resinated wine is a far tangier, livelier, more interesting thing than the blanded-down cosmopolitan food that Greek restaurants serve to urbanites and foreigners. Aglaia Kremezi, in her book, bemoans what she sees as Greek's inferiority complex about their

(617) 868-9098
202 Third Street, East Cambridge
Open Mon-Thurs,
11 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Fri and Sat,
11 a.m.-11 p.m.;
Sun, noon-10 p.m.
Bar open until 1 a.m. daily
AE, MC, Visa
Full bar
Sidewalk-level access

food, and this complex seems to have traveled to the US - just think about the relative dearth of Greek restaurants versus the huge surplus of Greek-owned pizzerias, in which transplanted
tasted so powerfully of raw garlic that the people at our table made a deal: veryone eats it, or no one does.
     But beyond that, the Mediterranean liveliness Greek food can achieve - the interplay between lemon and brine, seafood and olive oil and greens, the land and the hills - was evident only in snatches. It showed through in a chicken kebab ($7.75), in which moist grilled chunks of chicken were served alongside a bed of rice flavored with tomato paste and, fleetngly, cinnamon. It peeked out of the octopus appetizer($6.95), a toss of chopped tentacles and parsley and oil, which unfortunately also had a canned-tuna-fish taste (it benefited immeasurably from a few squeezes of lemon).

GREEK FIRE: flaming sheep's-milk cheese, served with a flourish of lemon-juice, is the high point of the menu.
Hellenes sell Americanized Italian food with posters of Corinth on the wall and maybe a token gyro on the menu.
     Desfina, to its credit, does not serve pizza. Its menu is all Greek, and the place has the warmth of a village hangout. Its cooking aims more for comfort than electricity, which makes it disappointing for someone who looks for powerful flavors in Mediterranean food. On the other hand, it's a fun cheap date for an adventurous person with an unadventurous palate.
     As always, there are exceptions. The flaming cheese ($5.95) is extinguished with several squezzes of a cut lemon; the juice adds to the natural zip of the sheep's-milk cheese, and the resulting puddle of lemon and oil makes great bread-mopping. Also profoundly unbland was the skordalia ($3.75), a very smooth dip that
And a hint of the Greek tradition of rich wild-greens pies lurked in the horta, a cold salad of wilted dark greens served alongside an otherwise unremarkable red-snapper special. The horta is also available as an appetizer ($3.75), and although we didn't find it electrifying, it's probably a richer-tasting salad than the traditional iceburg lettuce.
     And then there were the dolmades ($5.95), the classic giant stuffed grape leaves. In Middle Eastern restaurants, a finger-size version of these is usually served as an appetizer; in Greek places, they're like virid enchiladas packed with rice and ground lamb, and topped with the thickened egg-lemon sauce called avgolemono. There is something dark and spinachy about a cooked grape leaf, and the package has the aura of comfort food with just a slight jolt of life from the lemon in the sauce.
get a glass of retsina, the bizarre result of historical Greek prediliction for mixing pine bark into white wine as a preservative. The version here is fairly mild compared to the stuff you can buy in Greece: it's an off-dry white with a lingering hint of turpentine.
     As a neighborhood restaurant, Desfina is easy to like. Among other things, the price/coziness ratio is unmatched; you walk through the front room, with tables and a small warm bar, to sit in a snug booth in back. If you stand outside the windows at night, you can see the neon exterior of the CambridgeSide Galleria several blocks down, but you still feel miles removed from the scoured vastness of a mall. You feel like you're somewhere else. Not Greece, maybe, but somewhere.

     Steven Heuser can be reached at sheuser@phx.com

A Greek isle beckons in Cambridge


By Diego Ribadeneira
From the outside, it doesn't look promising: a brick facade with small picture windows on a bland building near the CambridgeSide Galleria. But inside is a lovely oasis of down-home Greek cooking prepared carefully and with great attention to authenticity.
     Opened in February, Desfina took over a space that had been occupied by a Mexican restaurant. The first thing you see inside is a fully stocked bar decorated with a long mirror - a tipoff to the room's origin as a tavern.
     The owners of Desfina, who named the restaurant after the small Greek village from which they hail, have given the restaurant a warm, pleasent ambience. The walls are painted a pastel blue and adorned with a not-too-tacky bas-relief, a mural of a Greek waterfront, and Grecian tapestries.
     And the food, for the most part, lives up to the decor. "We wanted to give people a taste of a variety of good, homemade Greek cooking and also make it cheap." says Harry Alex, the restaurant's manager. Desfina scores on both counts. And to accompany the meals is a good selection of Greek wines.
     Previous experiences with Greek food made us wary that the dishes would be too heavy. But Desfina's kitchen - where the bantering in Greek is a reassuring sound - manages to set out food that is filling without being leaden.
     The pastichio ($6.75) was delicious, layers of baked ziti, potatoes, and ground meat covered with a thin layer of mouth-watering bechamel sauce. We wondered what spices gave the sauce its sweet, toffee-like taste. Our waitress said that was a family secret.
     Whatever it was also made the sauce of a winner when blended into the moussaka
WHERE 202 Third St., Cambridge
TELEPHONE 617-868-9098
HOURS Mon-Thur 11 am-11 pm,
Fri. 11 am-1 am, Sat. 5 pm-
midnight, Sun. noon-10 pm
GOOD CHOICES Kalamari, spanakopita, tenderloin tips,
roast lamb, pastichio, kataifa,
CREDIT CARDS American Express, MasterCard, Visa.
ACCESS Fully accessible.

Desfina's kitchen - where the bantering in Greek is a reassuring sound - manages to set out food that is filling without being leaden.

($6.75), another traditional Greek dish similar to pastichio except the macaroni is replaced with sauteed eggplant. Still, we would have liked a few more potatoes and a little less oil.
     The roast lamb ($8.50) arrived just as a lively Greek song played on the sound system. The music made us want to dance, and so did the juicy, tender lamb topped with fresh herbs and pungent spices. The side of white rice came with mushrooms and had a lemony zing.
     There were joyous exclamations from one of our dining companions after she took a bite of the delicate tenderloin tips. ($8.75) cooked medium well - morsels of tender beef seasoned with ground pepper and a hint of garlic. This meat was done simply, but done right.
     Unfortunately, the beef kabab ($8.75) we ordered medium rare came out looking more like well done. Nevertheless, we couldn't honestly complain about the dish - robust, smoky, generous chunks of meat coated with a slightly burnt crust.
     Among the appetizers, our favorite by far was the kalamari ($4.75). Even our dining partner who normally shuns anything moderately exotic, couldn't stop delving into the small mound of crunchy, lightly battered squid that avoided the trap of being too chewy or rubbery.
     The spanakopita ($4.25) had feta cheese enveloped with sauteed spinich in a crispy phyllo pastry. It was flavorful, but perhaps a bit more cheese would have made it even better.
     We sampled a couple of dips, the tzatziki ($3.75) and the scordalia ($3.75). The first was a thick, creamy blend of yogurt, cucumbers, and garlic sauce that sat well on the warm pita chips that came with the dish. The scordalia was infused with garlic and pureed potato, but was undermined by an excessive amount of olive oil.      We could not leave a Greek restaurant without ordering the saganaki ($5.95), a hunk of tart kefalograviera cheese lightly floured, drizzled with high-octane rum, and then - in the fine tradition of Greek restaurants coast- to-coast - flamed tableside. Opa!
     Greeks are famous for their sweets and Desfina doesn't disappoint. The baklava ($2.25) was yummy - moist, not too sweet, and with a flaky crust. It was a savory change of pace from the intensely sweet baklava one usually finds. We also loved the difficult-to-spell, but a treat to eat, galaktobouriko ($2.25), a thick, sweet custard coated with honey.
     The waitstaff was attentive without being intrusive. When Alex came over to make sure everything was fine, we had no complaints.
     Don't be put off by the restaurant's exterior. Once inside you'll feel like you've arrived at your grandmother's dining room - that is, if your grandmother is Greek.
Copyright © February, 2011 Desfina Inc. All rights reserved.