Holiday Traditions: Yannis’ recipe

Yannis Pihas

Holiday Traditions: Yannis’ recipe

Yannis Pihas, the  popular owner of Yanni’s Bar and Grill in Scripps Ranch, has been celebrating Thanksgiving in the  States since he immigrated from Greece in 1985.

“I immigrated to the United States about 34 years ago. My background is in economics, but when
I came here, I could not speak English. As I was going to school, I started working in a kitchen as a prep-cook,” Pihas said. “As my English improved, I became a server, then a host, then a maître d’, then a wine steward, then assistant manager and then manager.”

Pihas explained that he worked as a restaurant hotel manager when he evaluated both the amount of time and effort put toward his work when he made the decision to open his own restaurant in 1994 in Los Angeles. Pihas and his wife, Denise, moved to San Diego in 2001 and eventually opened Yanni’s Bar and Grill.

For Pihas and his wife, the holidays are a time to bring family together and celebrate the gifts given to them year over year. Pihas, who learned how to cook from his mother and grandmother in Greece, said
that a traditional festive meal would include lamb and turkey.

“One of our longest standing traditions is to have a fantastic meal with a large group of family and friends. We make lamb, turkey, pan seared chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and stuffing – traditional American fare,” Pihas said.

When asked if he had any tips for creating the perfect turkey, Pihas said there is nothing better than
giving it lots of time to cook and lots of rosemary and garlic. He also said a good wine is an essential piece of any holiday meal.

Pihas said he also likes to include some favorite Greek recipes as well. Spanakopita and homemade dolmas make excellent appetizers, he said. A Greek staple at all their holiday meals is butternut squash made carefully by peeling, deseeding, roasting and smashing with butter and maple syrup. While it might be work intensive, Pihas assured the effort pays off.

“Cooking is one of the great celebrations of life – it creates memorable experiences for the family to remember for years to come,” Pihas said.

For some of Yanni’s favorite holiday cuisine including the butternut squash, visit Yanni’s Bar and Grill, 12015 Scripps Highlands Drive.

Yanni’s Bar & Grill butternut squash


  • 5 pounds butternut squash
  • 4 ounces brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 8 ounces butter
  • 4 ounces maple syrup


  • Peel, seed and cut the butternut squash to small pieces.
  • Boil for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Drain and mash, add butter (will melt from the heat from the butternut squash).
  • Add seasoning ingredients slowly to achieve your preferred level of seasoning.
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