A land of ancient ruins, spectacular mountains, exotic beaches and isolated harbors, Crete is the largest island of Greece. The temperate Mediterranean climate, abundant local produce and the hospitality of its people make Crete an ideal culinary destination. There’s an endless choice of delicious Cretan dishes, from traditional cheeses to eye-watering ouzo. We’ve picked our top 10 favorites.
The owners of Elia, located in the southern village of Sellia, cook only with products of the region and virgin olive oil. The couple manage to render traditional Cretan dishes into artistic creations of high quality and magical flavour. The menu is extensive including Greek souvlaki skewer, pork in lemon, aubergines, hummus, marinated tuna with ginger. Meals can be enjoyed alongside views of the sea and mountains from the terrace of the small, simple taverna. Perfect for any time of the day, the superb food, friendly atmosphere and fantastic prices make it a must visit.
Located in a village on the foot of the unspoiled White Mountains of Chania, at 600 metres altitude, the traditional taverna Dounias is a centre of gastronomy and slow food. The famous Cretan diet, long-known for its healthy properties, is followed to the letter by the owner Stelios Trilirakis, who uses only locally produced raw materials and cooks in wood stoves. Vegetables, fruits, olives and the virgin olive oil come from the family’s groves, and meat and poultry are sourced from their farm. Herbs such as oregano, dittany and chamomile are picked from nearby slopes, giving a special aroma to traditional dishes such as Greek salad, rabbit casseroles, lamb with honey and meat dishes with pilaf rice.
The unassuming tavern at the little harbour of Elounda took its name from the famous 70s TV-series Who Pays the Ferryman, and hasn’t changed much since it first opened in 1974. An intimate, family-owned restaurant on the waterfront of Elounda bay, it offers spectacular views to the uninhabited island of Spinalongha, the former leper colony from 1903 to 1957, which is now a tourist attraction. The atmosphere is peaceful, ideal for summer balmy nights out. The menu is overseen by the famous Greek chef Yiannis Baxevanis who transforms traditional recipes into gourmet experiences. The bread is freshly baked daily using locust bean and the vegetables are home-grown and of exceptional quality. From the traditional Greek salad to the ‘gastronomic adventure’ menu, be prepared for a unique and unforgettable culinary experience.
In the central square of Armenoi village in the prefecture of Rethymnon, restaurant Alekos took its name from the father of owner and chef Sifis. It doesn’t offer a menu and customers go to the kitchen to see the traditional Cretan cuisine on offer instead. For those who feel more adventurous Sifi’s lovely sisters and the chef himself can explain and propose dishes for each taste while at the same time giving a quick history lesson of the area and of the village of Armenoi. Mouth-watering pork with the traditional Cretan herb stamnagathi, local sausages, giant salads with local vegetables and herbs fill the tables. As in every Cretan tavern the sumptuous dinner ends with local deserts and raki on the house. The restaurant received the prestigious Greek award of Excellence ‘Xrysoi Skoufoi’ in 2010 and in 2014.
In the little mountain village of Myrthios, at the southern edge of Crete, Taverna Dionysos welcomes it customers with superb hospitality by the big family of locals who run the restaurant, a few drinks and samples of the goods to come from the menu. Tables are arranged on a big terrace overlooking olive trees and the Libyan sea below. Stuffed zucchini blossoms are a traditional Cretan dish and Dionyssos offers probably the best version. The flowers are picked early in the morning when they are very fresh and served at the restaurant at lunch or in the evening, stuffed with delicious mix of rice and various herbs. The waiter can advise on the freshest fish of the day.
Gramboussa is located on the little island of the same name, near Balos on the north western tip of Crete. It has one of the most gorgeous views to the blue and green waters of Kissamos bay and Rodopos peninsula. The unique atmosphere of the area, combined with the beautiful décor, make Gramboussa one of the best-loved restaurants. The choice of food on the menu can be overwhelming but Gamvoussa salad with creamy goat’s cheese, baked lamb wrapped in filo pastry and rabbit wrapped in lemon leaves are definitely worth a try.
The beautiful port city of Chania is home to many great restaurants but don’t miss the opportunity to visit Chrisostomos. The restaurant is located in the old port, beside the warehouses, one of the nicest and quietest parts of town. The menu consists mainly of traditional dishes but it also experiments on new ideas. Salads with cold chickpeas, lentils with herbs and warm bread freshly made in the stone oven are some of the delicious choices on offer.
In the noisy, touristy area of Hersonissos, there is a very small, family-run restaurant that offers good food, great service and excellent hospitality. The Alchemist has a bar serving delicious cocktails to the hordes of sun-burned tourists waiting to be seated. It is easily the busiest place in the village with a great buzz and authentic Greek food. Traditional dishes such as shrimp saganaki, grilled octopus, beef stifado and moussaka are not going to disappoint and the complementary raki and dessert after the meal are a must.
Open all year-round, Gero Tsegas is a beautiful sea-side restaurant with views to the small fishing port of Psarolimano in the province of Kastelli. Customers can sit in the beautiful veranda or indoors and enjoy the most delicious selection of fresh fish and seafood. Dishes include fish soup with kakavia and lobster spaghetti. All fish are local, arriving directly from the boats that reach the little harbour every day.
O Gero Tsegas, Limni Kissamou, Vathi Chanion, +30 28220 22195
On the roof of Lato Boutique hotel in Herakleion, the capital city of Crete, Herb’s Garden offers views of the Venetian harbour and the ocean. With the freshest fish and seafood delicacies, it is also an ideal place for enjoying coffee and ice-creams on a hot day or cocktails and drinks at night, watching the glittering lights of the port.