Athens's village-like Plaka district is home to a plethora of restaurants and cafes | Poike / Getty Images
From hip mezedopoleia to hole-in-the-wall Asian joints, Athens is paradise for travellers looking to eat on a shoestring. While gyros and cheese pies will certainly satiate your appetite, Athens has plenty more to offer in terms of budget eats.
Read on to find where to enjoy classic delicacies, creative takes on traditional Greek food and other international cuisines at affordable prices.
Stop by a bakery to enjoy a slice of traditional Greek spanakopita (spinach pie) Fascinadora / Getty Images
Just opposite Kolonaki’s main square, amid the elegant neighbourhood’s high-end boutiques, sleek galleries and upscale restaurants, you will find the gastronomic treasure that is Valsamakis’s chicken grill shop. Kotopoula Valsamakis serves as a popular meeting spot in Kolonaki and is something of an institution – it has been in operation since 1963 and has become famous among local residents for its signature dish: chicken roasted on a spit. “It is the oldest eatery on the square,” says the owner Mr Kostas proudly. “The quality of the food is still as good as it was back in the 1960s, with my ingredients always sourced from Metsovo,” he says, referring to the mountain town in northern Greece. Try the fried chicken with hand-cut potatoes or chicken skewers for a meal that is simple, tasty and affordable.
A stone’s throw from Athens’s Central Market, Varvakeios, you will find Klimataria’s dreamy vine-filled courtyard behind a colourful door. This classic taverna is renowned not only for its tasty, traditional Greek dishes, but also for its music, as Markos Vamvakaris, the most influential rebetiko musician, used to play here with his orchestra. The taverna’s owner, Pericles – a musician himself – keeps the taverna’s musical tradition alive by inviting live folk bands to play, so it is likely their tunes will accompany your meal of rustic pies, stuffed pork belly and lamb with mashed potatoes.
Authentic tavernas offer some of the most reasonably priced and delicious food in Athens Adél Békefi / Getty Images
Restaurant, Greek, Italian, $$$
Situated in the hip Koukaki neighborhood, Mikri Venetia (Little Venice) is an eatery run by two friends – appropriately named Venetia and Florentia. One look at the restaurant and it is clear that friendship and community are the core concepts. A long table invites all customers to sit together and share food under an inscription on the wall reading “People are the answer, no matter the question”. Share Cretan kalitsounia pies and smoked herring with friends, while admiring the artsy décor.
Mention the concept of an “Indian-style souvlaki” to a Greek and you will be laughed at – unless they have been to Mirch, that is. You will find this Indian lounge at the heart of the old market in Monastiraki. The menu includes delicious hot chicken tikka skewers with yoghurt and peppermint sauce and spicy vindaloos, but it is the massive Indian souvlaki, which only costs €5 (£4.20), that will have you going back for more.
For a quick, tasty and healthy meal that won’t break the bank, head to Handlebar, a cycling café in Psiri specializing in vegan flavours. Inspired by London cafés, keen cyclist Gareth Jones opened this little spot as a place where you can have your bike repaired while having a beer and a snack. It is a place made with “vegapunks” (as Jones endearingly refers to vegetarians) in mind, who will be able to choose from a wide selection of meat-free dishes such as noodles with fresh vegetables and basmati rice, or quinoa with mushrooms, peas and cognac.
While modelled after old-style kafeneia (traditional cafes), Yperokeanio is actually a very modern space attracting young crowds for some of the best (and cheapest) food in downtown Athens. Prices start at €3.50 (£3) for mouth-watering mezedes, like stuffed mushrooms and beetroot salad with crabapple, which you must enjoy with tsipouro from the town of Tyrnavos, which is so pure that the owner promises it will never give you a hangover.
Folia, as its name (meaning “nest” in Greek) would suggest, is an Afghan eatery which places importance on creating an inviting and inclusive atmosphere. Owner Reza Gkolami is a refugee from Afghanistan, who persists with his love for Greece despite experiencing challenges and prejudice upon his arrival in the country in 2006. He is determined to stay in Greece and is currently actively campaigning with United Afghans in Greece to eliminate racism. The food at his restaurant helps him deal with his homesickness: accompany traditional Afghan dishes like coucou (potato balls) and madou (dough balls with chicken and herb stuffing) with raki or ouzo for a delightful gastronomic fusion.
Despite not being easy to find, this small basement taverna in Varvakeios market is always busy. Diporto has been serving hearty, traditional homemade Greek food since the 1950s and it is loved for being one of the most authentic spots in the city where you can eat well for under €10 (£8.50). The menu changes daily, but if you are lucky enough to come across them, you must try the flavourful chickpea soup and delicious sardines, which are grilled fresh.
Tucked down a passageway that once led to the entrance of a spectacular mansion, Bread and Roses serves high-quality Greek food at affordable prices in the most urban of Athenian environments. Head straight to its rooftop terrace – filled with plants and intricate mosaics which inject a hint of greenery into Omonoia’s heavy cityscape – and order one of the meals of the day. With a meat, fish or veggie option, this meal will set you back less than €7 (£5.95) for a full portion and less than €4 (£3.40) for a half portion.
Vasilis Kalamakis, owner of Microulee, is on a mission to fill a gap in the Athenian culinary scene. He explains that people in Greece tend to keep away from Asian food, as it has a reputation for being expensive: “It satisfies me when someone comes to Microulee for the first time and discovers cuisines they had previously considered inaccessible,” he says. This popular takeaway spot in the lively neighbourhood of Exarcheia offers a wide selection of Asian dishes, from crab wontons and sushi to Shanghai beef with mushrooms, which will set you back no more than €5 (£4.25) a piece.