Where to eat in Athens, according to Greece’s most famous chef

For Vassilis Kallidis, a Greek celebrity chef and street-food travel show host a-la-Anthony Bourdain, eating in Athens isn’t just about food. “I’m crazy about Athens, crazy in love!” Kallidis writes in his new Athens Food Guide, filled cover to cover with places to visit, locales to explore, and – most importantly – restaurants and dishes to try.

Vassilis Kallidis smiles confidently at the camera as he holds a copy of his new book, the Athens Food Guide under the warm lighting of blown glass lamps hanging from the ceiling of a restaurant. He wears a black t-shirt and a wine glass sits in front of him. He has a short beard and dark, short-cropped hair.
Vassilis Kallidis has sometimes been called "the Greek Anthony Bourdain" for his joyous, no-holds-barred approach to food © Margarita Gokun Silver / Lonely Planet

A roundup of Kallidis’s “most beloved” eateries, places where he feels “at home,” the Guide invites readers to explore beyond the regular and to immerse themselves into the city Kallidis calls “the most liberal, most sexy, open-hearted city [where] you can do whatever you want 24/7.” 

For a taste of what Kallidis' Guide – and Athens itself – has to offer, here are 18 places to eat, broken up by Athenian neighborhoods, which will make you feel just as much enthusiasm as Kallidis does for his beloved Athens.

The silver exterior of the Hertoclito restaurnt in the Syntagma and Plaka neighborhood has blue and black cafe chairs out front and a small tree growing in a wooden planter box. Through the window you can see beautifully lit bottles behind the bar in dark, inviting tones. Outside, an Athenian man in jeans and a black jacket walks down the cobbled street
Don't forget to wash down all the delicious food you'll find in Athens with plenty of fine Greek wine © Vassilis Kallidis / Lonely Planet

Syntagma and Plaka

A food emporium, the Ergon House combines a restaurant that serves modern Greek cuisine with a traditional Athenian agora (a market). Complete with a deli, a fishmonger, a butcher, a vegetable stall, and an artisanal grocer, Ergon Houses’s shelves are chock-full of products from all over Greece you can either enjoy at your hotel or take back home.

Around the corner Inomagerio Evgenia has been serving traditional Greek food for over 24 years. Their moussaka is one of Kallidis’s favorite and ordering their fava, a yellow split pea dip, is an absolute must. If Greek wine is your beat, drop by Heteroclito, a bar à vin that boasts over 200 local labels, serving them with plates of Greek cheeses and cold cuts.      

The cook at To Steki Tou Elia holds a plate of grilled meat garnished with lemon in front of massive wood-fired grills in the restaurant kitchen. He wears a blue button-down shirt covered with a sweater vest and a white apron. He looks at the camera with a proud expression.
Athenian cuisine is very diverse, with everything from fresh vegetable dishes to grilled meats and seafood © Vassilis Kallidis / Lonely Planet

Monastiraki and Psirri 

For great moussaka – a meaty dish that's “one of the city’s hottest musts,” according to Kallidis – and excellent souvlaki (skewered meat and vegetables) visit Nikitas, an old-style taverna that’s been feeding locals and visitors since the mid-60s. To feel like you’re on a Greek island – white-washed walls and blue doors and shutters included – stop by Avli, a taverna that made an appearance in Kallidis’s Food and The City show, for a drink and an omelet with sujuk sausage. 

In Monastiraki, the most touristy part of Athens, go to To Staki Tou Elia, an old family taverna, for their Mediterranean-style lamb chops, grilled with oregano over hot coals. A few blocks away, Thanasis is “one of the most photographed kebab places in Athens” and an institution, serving succulent kebabs to Athenians and tourists alike since 1964.  

The proprietor of the Diporto taverna in the Monastiraki and Psirri area sits holding a glass of wine. He has a white chefs coat on and a white mustache. To his left sits Kallidis in a black t-shirt with white writing on it. Behind them is an accordion player in white slacks and shirt. On the table are the remains of several dishes and a hunk of bread
Kallidis sits with the proprietor of the Diporto taverna, which specializes in light, everyday fare beloved by Athenians © Vassilis Kallidis / Lonely Planet

Nestled in the corner of both Monastiraki and Psirri is Varvakeios, the central food market. Once there make your way downstairs to Diporto, a no-frills taverna, for chickpea stew and grilled sardines, “freshest ever,” according to Kallidis. Nearby Oinomageirio Epirus is known for its tripe soup, as well as for a wide variety of Greek vegan and vegetarian options.

Petralona and Koukaki

A short stroll from Monastiraki – and yet almost devoid of tourists – is Petralona, a neighborhood that sometimes seems straight out of “a Pedro Almodovar movie,” according Kallidis. There with the atmosphere resembling “your grandma’s home on the islands” (plastic flowers and Formica tables included) Aster serves Cretan specialties and makes up one of Kallidis’s top-ten in the city.

Across Filopappou Hill in Koukaki Attikos Greek House boasts a terrace view of the Parthenon and, for Kallidis, the best “mamma-style” moussaka in Athens. “[Book] the round table in the front,” he says, “use my name (the code is Vassilis the Chef), and ask for Mrs. Mina [the owner].”    

The proprietor of Kapetan Mixalis sits in a green shirt and glasses at the table of his Cretan-style taverna. Behind him are portraits of men with mid-century glasses and dramatic mustaches, as well as a vintage phone. Above on a high shelf are bottles of scotch and ouzo
Kapetan Mixalis has maintained its mid-century cool, changing little since the 1960s when this was a cafe favored by the intelegensia © Vassilis Kallidis / Lonely Planet

Panepestimio 

Visit Prodorpion for one of the best souvlaki in town. A favorite amidst the regular Athenians on their lunch break it’s one of those eateries Kallidis speaks about when he says he doesn’t chose the “most conventional [for tourists] places.” For time-travel to the 1960s Greece stop by Kapetan Mixalis, a traditional Cretan kafenion-turned-taverna. Enjoy braised pork with mustard, a specialty, surrounded by patrons young and old and by the spirit of Greek writers, actors and intellectuals who used to frequent the place.

Pangrati and Kolonaki

Traditional neighborhood tavernas like Mavros Gatos co-exist door-to-door next to fashionable cafes in Pangrati, a neighborhood many artists and creatives call home. “It all tastes homemade, everything is homemade,” says Kallidis of Mavros Gatos in his book, adding that their stuffed grape leaves with the egg lemon sauce  “moved him to tears.” On the other side of the National Garden from Pangrati lies Kolonaki, Athens posh area.

Although predominantly empty of residents in the summer, it hosts one of the city’s most known open-air cinemas and, right next to it, an outdoor restaurant by the same name, Dexameni. It serves traditional Greek mezes (small plates) while providing all the people watching you’ll ever need in this traditional Athenian neighborhood.

An older gentleman in black pants and a black coat waits at the counter of the Lefteris suvlaki stand in Athens, Greece while two employees in blue shirts prepare food in a stainless steel kitchenette
Lefteris is a great place to experience fast food the Athenian way – with fresh pita and suvlaki eaten hot off the skewer © Vassilis Kallidis/ Lonely Planet

Exarchia and Omonia

For “one of the best places to eat fish in the center” according to Kallidis (and the “cleanest kitchen in Athens”) go to I Stoa and order their taramosalata, the Greek fish roe dip. For authentic Cretan specialties – “Crete is the capital of food in Greece,” says Kallidis – stop by Kriti. Try deep-fried olives, their special meze, and Cretan snails with rosemary and vinegar.

A few blocks away at Stani, a diary heaven from 1931, order “a [worker’s] breakfast from the 1930s” – a scoop of Greek yogurt topped with walnuts and honey. Close by, Lefteris serves suvlaki in their very own, home-made pita. There are a couple of tables but for a true Athenian experience, eat your souvlaki like the rest of patrons – standing up “with your feet open like a penguin for the sauce not to drip on your shoes.”

The owner of Thanasis restaurant sits at one of the tables, whcih are covered in blue and orange plaid clothes covered in clear plastic. He is wearing a light blue chefs shirt with orange trim on the sleeves and collar. The walls are paneled in wood and veneer, belaying the age of the restaurant
Many of the restaurants on Kallidis' list have been open since the 1960s, spending decades perfecting their repertoires and earning loyal followings © Vassilis Kallidis / Lonely Planet

The Athens Food Guide: A Trip to the Underbelly of Athens is Kallidis’s first English-language guide. Some of the listings encourage you mention his name to the owner and on the cover he lists his personal Instagram account. “People can ask me stuff [directly],” he says, “and I answer within seconds.” Eating in Athens is personal for Kallidis; it fuels the fondness he feels for his city. Use his guide – follow the recommendations and peruse the anecdotes and the stories – and you too will fall in love with Athens. 

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