Blessed with great Mediterranean produce and perhaps one of the most varied cuisines in the western world, the city of Athens offers up many dining spots that might well top any culinary experience you have lived so far.
From the world-famous Greek salad topped with great hunks of creamy feta to light, meze bites and the nation’s favourite snack, the souvlaki (a meat kebab nestled into a tzatziki, salad and French fry stuffed flatbread), Athens does not fail in delivering gastronomic perfection. What’s more, most menus are vegan and vegetarian friendly, owing to the Greeks’ love of all things salad, vegetables and dips. Kali sas oreksi! (Happy eating).
Best cheap eats
Tucked down a pedestrian street opposite an outdoor cinema and in amidst the graffiti of Athens' edgy Exarhia neighbourhood, Valteziana Pizzeria finally brings a decent pizza to the city. Opened by a Neapolitan and Greek duo in perhaps the most politicised area of Athens, Valteziana is dedicated to "pizza for the people" – a cheap, delicious pizza with an authentic, thin base as it is done in Napoli. Best enjoyed out in the street (with the Athenians now flocking here en masse) and swilled down with a Peroni.
If cheap and traditional is what you’re in the mood for, then it doesn’t get better than Oikonomou. This spot in the village-feeling neighbourhood of Petralona is a classic Greek taverna, complete with aging proprietors and the time-perfected recipes passed on from their own grandmothers. Try the kokkinisto (cinnamon and tomato stewed beef) and lahanodolmades (wild green parcels) and eat mains priced at as little as €7.
If you’re out and about exploring central Athens and only a quick bite whilst on the go will do, head to this spot in the heart of town for a quick, filling feed on a budget. The most popular Falafel spot in the city, Falafellas does bulging falafel wraps with a spicy hit and plenty of crunchy salad to power a day of sight-seeing. Eat it out on the street and be sure to ask for extra napkins. You’ll need them.
Best high end
One of the oldest cafes in the city, Athénée was opened as Zonars in 1939. As well as being housed in a swanky, historic building and outfitted with decadent velvet furnishing and a strong art deco theme, the restaurant also happened to be a hub for Greek celebrities like Melina Merkouri and Sophia Loren who would pop in for a fancy pastry or two. Coffee and pastries have since been swapped for a cosmopolitan, gourmet menu that fuses Mediterranean dishes and modern European cuisine. Blow the bank on the Black Angus short ribs with truffle oil for rich, fall-off-the-bone indulgence. Plus, the feta in ultra-light puff pastry is a signature here.
It might sound ambitious, but with its expert curation and elegantly styled food, Nolan’s Greek-Japanese concept works. Only a Greek-Japanese chef (Sotiris Kontizas) could mastermind a fusion menu of the two nations so organically. His heritage has made him the perfect person to blend Asian dining sensibilities (small sharing dishes arrive at your table exactly when they’re ready) with Mediterranean flavour and endemic ingredients sourced locally. At Nolan, typically Asian dishes like salmon and soba noodles incorporate tastes of the Med, like Tahini for a unique blending of both culinary worlds.
A Michelin star restaurant, modern-feeling Hytra sits atop the Onassis Cultural Centre. You might want to sample the 14 course tasting menu featuring savoury sorbets, cocktail and Greek wine pairing. While the food is decidedly of a high standard with locally sourced ingredients crafted into elegant small plates (the scallops with hazelnut cream are stand-out), the rooftop with views over central Athens and onto the Parthenon is the real draw here.
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Top vegan and vegetarian
For Greek favourites given a vegan twist, look to Mama Tierra for a sit down meal that offers a plant-based take on classics. The moussaka, for example, is made using coconut milk instead of cow’s milk for the creamy bechamel. Enjoy range of exciting salads, dips and veggie kebabs swilled down with probiotic-packed kombucha.
This city is famed for its souvlaki. Meat kebabs served in a soft pitta are available on pretty much every corner of Athens but Vegan souvlaki is a fairly new phenomenon. That hasn’t stopped Cokoomela from pioneering Vegan wraps in the city, transforming the Greeks’ favourite fast food snack into a wholesome, plant-based option packed with green goodness from mushrooms and herbs, to lentils and avocados. It’s all the flavour with none of the guilt.
Conveniently located close to the Acropolis, Veganaki is an all-plant-based cafe perfectly positioned for a pre/post archaeological visit snack. Expect a colourful plate of vegan fare, whatever your order here. Vegan burgers, moussaka, wraps and snacks are what to expect from the menu - best enjoyed outside under the shade of the butter orange trees.
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Ama Laxei restaurant in "anarchist" Exarhia does wonders to dispel the rumours of riots, molotov cocktails and civil unrest that has branded the neighbourhood since the financial crisis. Set back off Kallidromiou Street (famous for its Saturday market) in a former school, Ama Laxei is usually packed from lunch until late. It’s well worth waiting for a table in the garden that drips with sweet jasmine. Try the green salad with roasted manouri cheese if you fancy a break from Greek salad and the baked chickpeas roasted with slow-cooked pork are melt in the mouth.
This mezedopoleio in Pangrati, a neighbourhood frequented by the young, hip and arty of Athens, has swiftly become one of the hippest places to get cheap, delicious meze bites made with a level of refinement that’s different to your usual taverna dishes. Book your visit here because Mavro Provato, its outdoor seating area lined with bitter orange trees, rarely has a table going for those not discerning enough to have reserved in advance. Try the slow-cooked beef in tomato and their famed crispy kolokithokeftedes (courgette balls).
Specialising in Cretan favourites, Oxo Nou has the very best combination of a real Athenian dining experience: a shot of throat-searing tsipouro to begin your dinner with, traditional Greek music, hearty meze platters of fluffy tomato balls and fiery tirokafteri (spicy cheese dip) served with plenty of cheap house retsina and indoor smoking.
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Combining all the relaxed laid-backness of Greek al-fresco dining with a smartened up version of the city’s favourite street food, Kalamaki Kolonaki elevates the souvlaki to gourmet standards. Look to this place for a swanky variation on the classic kebab in a flatbread. Pescatarians can partake of a salmon souvlaki while turkey options here trump the traditional pork options.
Around since 1950 and still so popular that the proprietor doesn’t even need to open on the weekends, Kostas is hands-down the most iconic souvlaki spot in the city. So popular is it with locals that this place is never without a 10-strong line outside. It also closes as soon as they’re out of meat for the day. Here it’s wise to stick to the classic: a pork souvlaki (grilled pork meat on a skewer) nestled into a soft flatbread mattress, topped with salad, creamy yogurt tzatziki and fries.
For souvlaki with a view, pop into this centrally located restaurant and choose not to dine out on the sidewalk but up on the roof terrace. At Savvas, all the usual varieties of souvlaki apply – from pork to chicken and lamb – but try the lamb kebab here because it’s the restaurant’s specialty. Best wolfed down with a Mythos beer whilst gazing over the Acropolis. The ultimate Athenian experience.
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Best coffee and brunch
Frater & Soror
Usually a cold coffee and cigarette will suffice most Greeks until noon, but the concept of brunch is beginning to finally catch on in Athens, thanks in no small part to Frater & Soror. The US-influenced brunch menu varies from fermented porridge that is as creamy as it is healthy and eggs done three ways to fluffy pancakes with locally sourced fruit and hefty burgers for those nursing a hefty hangover.
As well as being one of the few places in Athens to serve sourdough bread and a decent pain au chocolat, Queen Bee is where the well-heeled of Athens head out to see and be seen over poached eggs and flat whites. Enjoy people watching outside as many of the Kolonaki neighbourhood’s well-dressed saunter by with their tiny dogs or watch the chefs at work in the bustling open kitchen.
Cherchez la Femme
This cafe just between Monastiraki and Syntagma Square recalls an Athens of a bygone era with its vintage wooden furniture, green marble tables and terrazzo floor. Come to Cherchez la Femme for honey-laden desserts like baklava and kataifi and swill them down Greek style with a tarry coffee served up in the traditional briki in which it’s boiled.