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An Eastern Mediterranean Oasis Opens in the South End

Ilona is now in business, with colorful booths and a diverse wine list

Ilona in Boston’s South End
Ilona in Boston’s South End
Sophie Benzie

A restaurant full of Eastern Mediterranean fare is now open in Boston’s South End. Ilona (783 Tremont St., Boston) opened in the former Parish Cafe restaurant space during the last week of June, and the team behind it has deep roots in the neighborhood.

Irakli Gogitidze and George Axiotis of Kava Neo-Taverna and Puro Ceviche Bar (Axiotis is also behind New York Pizza) took over the Parish Cafe space last August after owner Gordon Wilcox decided to close; he has kept the original Back Bay location of Parish Cafe (361 Boylston St., Boston) open. Kava and New York Pizza are both in the South End; Puro is nearby in Back Bay.

Gogitidze and Axiotis transformed the space at the corner of Tremont Street and Massachusetts Avenue, bringing in bold colors and designs and working with muralist Giorgi Shanidze, who also painted the eye-catching mural of a Greek grandfather inside Kava.

Ilona chef and partner Jesus Preciado oversees the new restaurant’s menu, which spans the Eastern Mediterranean with influences from Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, and Georgia, Gogitidze told Eater.

“We’re from that part of the world, so that’s how we ended up with that concept,” he said. “The name behind Ilona means ‘joy’ in our culture: getting together with friends, breaking bread, sharing wine — all the good stuff.”

Food spread from Ilona Sophie Benzie

Dishes include mezze like crispy eggplant, salt cod fritters, mussels with monkfish, and grilled shrimp, along with salads and sides like spicy pan-fried potatoes and fattoush. There are also meat and seafood kebabs, plus roasted chicken and lamb, grilled fish, and braised beef with plum sauce. Bread selections include manakish, a flatbread topped with za’atar spices, and aish baladi, an Egyptian flatbread.

Ilona’s beverage director, Fotios Stamos, and the team are also focusing on wines from the region, leaning into the centuries-old tradition of wine making in Georgia, with further selections from Armenia, Lebanon, and Western countries like France and Italy. The restaurant also has a selection of cocktails that focus on simple ingredients, including fresh juices.

The team designed the restaurant to show off modern and trendy tastes.

Ilona Sophie Benzie
Ilona Sophie Benzie

“We’ve got millennial pink in there and teal colors,” Gogitidze said. “We wanted to do something fresh and different. We’re more of your everyday, trendy place that you would feel welcome and wanting to hang out every day.”

Gogitidze said the team had been looking for a space to open another restaurant for about a year and a half before the Parish Cafe space became available.

“We felt like the South End is where we really, really wanted to be,” he said. “We love the neighborhood, just the feel of it, it’s very unique. The people, the neighborhood feel, the support of the regulars — it’s definitely a unique place to be. When Parish [became available], we had to jump on it; we didn’t even think twice.”

Ilona is initially operating for dinner seven days a week, from 5 to 11 p.m. The restaurant does have a 2 a.m. liquor license, and Gogitidze said the team is working on a late-night menu and plans to add European-style brunch sometime in August.

The Ilona team, left to right: George Axiotis, Jesus Preciado, and Irakli Gogitidze
The Ilona team, left to right: George Axiotis, Jesus Preciado, and Irakli Gogitidze
Sophie Benzie

Parish Cafe South End Is Closing [EBOS]
The Parish Cafe in Boston’s South End Is Closing, Ilona to Replace It [BRT]