Neighborhood Joint: In Astoria, Lining Up for the Souvlaki Lady

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As the smoky scent of grilling filled the afternoon air, Anthony Graciolett sidled up to the blue food cart with the crossed kebabs imprinted on its side and ordered a hot dog with sauerkraut.

As he munched, he went to the end of the line. When his turn came again, he asked for a hot dog slathered with mustard and onions.

After Mr. Graciolett waited in line again, he got pork souvlaki on a stick. For his fourth and final course, he ordered the chicken version of his previous order.

“I like a routine,” he said between bites. “I always order the same thing in the same order.”

Mr. Graciolett enjoys routine so much that he stops by the Souvlaki Lady on his way home from work at least two times every week.

The Souvlaki Lady, a.k.a. Elpida Vasiliadis, has been a fixture on the corner of 33rd Street and Ditmars Boulevard for 28 years, and Mr. Graciolett has been her customer for a good number of them.

When she took over the food cart from a previous vendor, there were no others in the neighborhood. She lived down the block, which made it convenient for checking in on her two children.

“I never named my business,” she said. “Everybody has always called me the Souvlaki Lady, and it stuck.”

You can find the Souvlaki Lady every day but Sunday on the corner in Astoria, between 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., under the shade of an umbrella advertising a bank. Ms. Vasiliadis’s daughter, Eleni, works the cart on Fridays.

Ms. Vasiliadis is best known for her $3 souvlaki on a stick (it’s $4.50 on a pita and $6 on a platter). Customers pay 50 cents more for her mayonnaise-based Souvlaki Lady Sauce. The recipes for the Greek dishes are from a restaurant her parents owned in Thessaloniki, Greece, called Psilokastro. She serves other dishes as well, including burgers, hot dogs and salads.

Stratos Efstathiadis, a longtime customer from Thessaloniki, described the cart’s pork souvlaki as “authentically Greek, the best in Astoria.”

Gabriel Collado, who was getting souvlaki for himself and his boss at Three Way Plumbing Supply on 45th Street, agreed wholeheartedly. “When she’s not here, I’ve tried the other two food carts on the opposite end of the block,” he said, “but there’s no comparison. It’s not only the food — she treats me like family. She remembers what I want.”

Although there were so many customers in line that Ms. Vasiliadis didn’t have time for a break, she said it was a pretty quiet day; sometimes there’s a line spanning half the block.

It is people like Mr. Graciolett, she said, who have kept her going strong for so long. And now that baseball season is in full swing, he’ll be stopping by even more.

“I have two kids, and I bring them and several of their friends here before the games,” Mr. Graciolett said.

Nicole Szarka visited next with her newborn daughter, Brailey, and her mother, Marie Galanos.

“The Souvlaki Lady is part of the neighborhood,” Ms. Szarka said. “It is the only food cart I trust with the meat.”

Ms. Galanos, who was finishing a pork souvlaki on a stick, said eating at the Souvlaki Lady has been a family tradition for a decade.

Has Brailey tried the souvlaki?

“Not yet,” Ms. Szarka said. “She’s only 2 months old. But she will.”

Brailey, who was silently slumbering in her stroller, had no comment.