Yanni’s is a local favorite
By John Gregory
Yanni’s Bar & Grill is not just another restaurant and owner Yannis Pihas is not just another restaurateur.
Pihas has been in the restaurant business for 33 years, and his vast knowledge of the industry is apparent. But it didn’t come easily. He immigrated to the U.S. from Greece and had to learn English. While he has worked in management in both the restaurant and hotel industries, he first worked as a cook, then as a server, wine steward, maitre d’, beverage manager, restaurant manager and then at several director positions.
Pihas opened a restaurant in Los Angeles before moving to San Diego in 2001. He eventually opened Yanni’s Bistro at 12205 Scripps Poway Parkway, and he said the majority of his customers came from Scripps Ranch. He was considering opening Yanni’s Bar & Grill at the new location and keeping Yanni’s Bistro going, but his wife, Denise, talked him out of it.
Pihas explained that Denise is the brains behind the business and taking her advice to run only one restaurant was “a very wise decision.”
Yanni’s Bar & Grill opened in July 2014 and the new location was an instant success, Pihas said.
The restaurant, located at 12015 Scripps Highlands Drive, occupies a building where other restaurants have failed. Pihas revealed a few secrets to his success.
“Treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said.
“You never serve something you won’t eat yourself,” he further explained.
“Treat your employees the best you can so they treat our guests the best they can. It’s always been a win-win situation,” he said, adding that the longevity of his employees is a testament to the restaurant’s success as well.
Ask Pihas a few questions about his restaurant and prepare for a journey through the fascinating world of cuisine and libations. As one would predict, Yanni’s menu features Greek food. But it also has Italian dishes because Denise is Italian-American, and the menu has Italian influences throughout.
Pihas said one of the most popular items is the lamb skewer, with marinated lamb, tzatziki and a pita. Other skewer selections include chicken, shrimp and beef tenderloin, each marinated in a different recipe of exotic and irresistible ingredients along with toppings. Plates come with vegetable and either mashed potatoes or Yanni’s rice.
Pihas said the pasta selection is incredible, stating his favorite is the capellini tourkolimano: shrimp with spiced tomato sauce served over pasta.
He also recommends any one of the dishes featuring salmon, which he orders from two different sources and receives several times each week. Pihas also suggests the penne chicken Marsala: chopped chicken, shallots, garlic, sage, mushrooms, Marsala wine, demi-glace and cream.
Yanni’s also has steaks, chops, hamburgers, sandwiches and a kids menu. The salads are made fresh and there is a special salad every day. Homemade soup is also available.
There is nothing like hearing Pihas describe the menu items himself. It is too extensive to list in the detail needed to do it justice. To take a look, visit yannisbarandgrill.com.
There is also a wide selection of offerings in the bar. It has an assortment of fine scotch and vodkas. The beer selection features microbrews from throughout Southern California. Of course, Pihas made sure the bar carries excellent Greek ouzo. In addition, Pihas said he is pleased with the mixology involved creating fine cocktails. Some of the more exotic drinks are a basil cucumber gimlet, a honey monkey and a hibiscus margarita.
“We are very proud of the drinks that we serve, top quality drinks,” he said.
Pihas has a passion for wine and has been collecting for many years, claiming his restaurant has one of the most extensive wine lists in San Diego.
“I enjoy wines very, very much because I believe food and wine go very, very well together,” he said.
Customers can order appetizers of all sorts, including small bites with a single bruschetta or a single piece of spanakopita, or they can enjoy large plates of appetizers. Guests can also feast on a full meal from the dinner menu while in the bar. Yanni’s holds happy hour Mondays through Saturdays from 3 to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.
There is a great deal of attention to detail at Yanni’s Bar & Grill, and dining there provides a comfortable experience. The meals are prepared much the same as the Pihas family cook and eat at home, with some additions, Pihas explained.
“The concept came about to just have delicious cuisine with American influence … that is very fresh, prepared at the restaurant,” he said. “We make all our sauces. We make all our dressings. Now we have a garden (on-site), so we have a lot of our own herbs. … It’s an exceptional quality of food at a reasonable price.”
Yannis’ Bar & Grill is planning a special wine dinner on Nov. 6 featuring selections from Barr Estate Winery from Paso Robles. Wines will be paired with a five-course dinner selected by Pihas for this occasion. Cost will be between $75 and $85 per person. Visit Yanni’s Facebook page or website for future details.