In Greece, sweetened pastry balls known as loukoumades are a common dessert with origins that likely date back to the first Olympics. In record-setting form, Sweet Greek Bites is the first purveyor to bring these ancient balls of fried dough to the streets of Los Angeles.
“We have them at Greek festivals, but other than that, the United States doesn’t really know about them. So I decided to make a food truck dedicated to Greek donuts,” said Maria Vlahos. As the owner of Sweet Greek Bites, Maria is used to enjoying loukoumades anytime, with her family’s Greek roots and many summers spent in Greece where they’re readily available as snacks.
Though similar to donut holes, loukoumades are also known as “honey puffs” for having a fluffier bready texture, traditionally doused in honey with a sprinkling of cinnamon and crushed walnuts.
In Athens, these ancient donut bites have seen a revival from younger generations incorporating more modern flavors and toppings. This trend is also catching on across the East Coast of the US, with popularity growing well beyond the Greek American population. Seeing an opportunity to introduce loukoumades to LA, Maria took a sharp career turn from her previous role in film production accounting to launch the Sweet Greek Bites truck this past March.
“My mom has a really good recipe,” she said. “Greek mothers are really good with cooking. So I trusted her to come up with a really good recipe and help me to make this a reality.”
With help from her mother Sophia, the dough is made fresh every day from a well-guarded recipe that doesn’t contain eggs or butter. The donuts are made to order on the spot in about four to five minutes. A specialized machine drops the dough into the hot oil, which must maintain a specific temperature in a tricky balance with a brief amount of cooking time. Maria applies a heavy degree of precision to her method to ensure each fritter is cooked evenly: light and airy, golden crispy on the outside and steaming warm in the middle. While individual sizes may vary, a full serving contains about 10 to 12 warm donuts for you to spear with a tiny forked pick.
You can get your donuts the traditional way with honey, walnuts, and cinnamon, or pick from seven other set flavor combinations on the Sweet Greek Bites menu. If your tastes are more selective, you can build your own combo with a drizzling of chocolate sauce, nutella, or peanut butter to be topped with your pick of pistachios, almonds, coconut, crushed cookies, or sprinkles. Interestingly, customers frequently take the traditional route over the trendier toppings.
“It’s nice to see that people want to eat it the way people in Greece eat it,” Maria said. “It’s made with authentic Greek honey. We splurge on our honey to make sure it’s really good.”
Greeks often have a scoop of ice cream and coffee with their donuts, a combination that Maria thinks goes so well together that she calls it “a whole trifecta.” Sweet Greek Bites offers all-natural gelato in six popular flavors from local producer Villa Dolce Gelato Italiano. Along with standard hot and cold brew coffee, the truck offers a Greek frappe, which is a foamy iced drink made with instant coffee and milk.
“It’s the typical coffee that Greeks make real quick at home and bring to the beach and enjoy all day,” she said. “It’s great as an iced coffee. It’s very addicting and very refreshing.”
Since loukoumades are versatile enough snacks to eat anytime, Maria plans to offer more variations in the future, perhaps including fruit or savory flavors such as feta cheese to transform the dish from a dessert or snack to a meal. “We’re always open to any suggestions of flavors.”
You can track the Sweet Greek Bites truck location on Twitter, regularly hitting areas of Hollywood (Wednesday and Thursday nights), Westwood (Friday nights) and Melrose Ave (Saturdays and Sundays). And on May 11 it will be serving outside of the Regent Theater where Greek recording artist Mihalis Hatzigiannis will be performing.
“Our goal is to not only have this in the Greek community but to see it catch on. I think people in general would enjoy them,” she said. “We just want to specialize in this and make it really good.”