With more than 110 years’ combined experience in the restaurant industry, Maria Stefanakis and Aristidis Varoutsos opened Athena’s Greek & European Kitchen at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring.

The restaurateurs pivoted plans to focus on takeout and delivery options, and while many other local restaurants have closed over the past year, the FM 529 eatery is thriving, Stefanakis said.

“People like my food. My reviews [are] five stars everywhere,” Stefanakis said.

Stefanakis, who moved to Houston from Greece in 1974, said she prides herself on the authentic Greek cuisine offered on the menu at Athena’s—named for her home country’s capital, Athens. While her background is primarily in Greek and barbecue restaurants, she said Varoutsos has decades of experience in French cuisine.

Popular dishes include classic gyros, lamb chops, Greek fajitas and traditional kebabs. The menu features pronunciation guides for Mediterranean dishes such as kokkinisto, yemista and galactoboureko—a traditional beef stew, stuffed peppers and baked custard dessert, respectively.

Diners will also find Athena’s is a place to celebrate Greek culture, said Sandra Simotas, a customer who enjoyed the food and atmosphere so much she decided to work for the restaurant.

“We do the ‘opa’ thing, break the plates. Sometimes the waiters and Maria and everybody will start dancing—a little bit of the Greek tradition,” Simotas said.

In Greek culture, “opa!” is a common expression used at celebrations and in traditional dancing, and plate smashing takes place during festivities such as weddings.

Stefanakis said her goal is to make everyone who comes into her restaurant feel at home. The interior decor features old family photos from the owners’ personal collections along with European artwork. She said she enjoys visiting every table herself and is known to encourage her customers to dance on Saturday nights.

“To come and eat here is like family,” Stefanakis said.

Athena’s Greek & European Kitchen, 13250 FM 529, Ste. A, Houston. 832-328-5494. www.athenasgreekkitchen.com

Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.