Chef and food writer Stathis Georgiadis gives the inside track on the best restaurants in Athens, which serve up everything from traditional fare and street food to Michelin-star cuisine and experimental Greek dishes.
Author of a book on Greece’s most famous liquor, ouzo, and co-founder of The Philosopher’s Stove, a pop-up kitchen specialising in ancient Greek cuisine, chef Stathis Georgiadis divides his time between Athens, Barcelona and London. Having moved to Athens from the northern Greek town of Veroia at the age of 18, he has closely followed the evolution of the capital’s gastronomic scene. His guide to eating your way through the city takes in a range of cuisines, including Vietnamese, Cretan tapas and innovative takes on traditional Greek dishes.
Small but beautiful, with quirky, mismatched furniture and cutlery, Aster started as a late-night tapas joint where young dancers and actors would congregate, ordering small and drinking some of the “best raki you can find outside Crete”, says Georgiadis, adding, “You’ll never wake up with a hangover.” The menu is concise, but the authentic ingredients come straight from Crete. These include xigalo, a buttery goat cheese spread; melt-in-your mouth ofti (baked) potatoes; and handmade vinegar pork sausage.
This is Georgiadis’s go-to restaurant when people come to visit him from abroad. Set in one of the most beautiful gardens in Athens, with the option to sit inside a high-ceilinged historic house when it’s too cold to sit outside, Ama Lachei is located on a quiet street in the vibrant artistic neighbourhood of Exarchia. With friendly service and a diverse menu filled with products sourced from all over Greece and an extensive wine and spirits list, Ama Lachei specialises in modern Greek cuisine. Some must-try dishes are the local cheeses, eggs with Cretan apaki (cured pork), lightly fried meatballs with ouzo and mint, and the seafood kritharoto – a Greek take on risotto. Be sure to book in advance, as Ama Lachei fills up quickly.
Greece’s national fast food is souvlaki, a skewer of meat or gyros wrapped in a grilled pitta bread and filled with tzatziki, tomatoes and onions. There are myriad ways of preparing this simple meal and every Greek has their own favourite souvlaki joint. Georgiadis’s heart belongs to the decades-old Dionysos, in the heart of Athens’s multicultural Kypseli neighbourhood; it was voted in 2017 by readers of Greece’s Athinorama magazine as having the city’s best gyros. Georgiadis says, “It’s a true souvlaki experience” and recommends getting a pitta gyros “with everything”. His favourite way of eating at Dionysos is to eschew sitting at a table, and instead grab a couple of gyros after watching a performance at one of the nearby theatres (such as the Leyteris Vogiatzis Theatre on Kykladon Street) and sitting in the leafy square people watching and talking about the performance.
There’s nothing like a pit stop at Feyrouz to fortify you as you explore Athens. The owner, Mrs Feyrouz-Eleni, arrived in Greece from Antioch in 1982 and opened the shop with her family in 2014. Hungry crowds come here to enjoy flavourful and reasonably priced Lebanese cuisine. There’s a variety of plump pide (similar to a pizza) and aromatic rice dishes, but most people come to devour the freshly baked lahmatzoun, a thin hand-kneaded dough (also offered in a wholewheat version) covered with minced meat and herbs. It’s street food at its finest, and the lines around the block at lunchtime are testament to this fact. Georgiadis always goes for the original lahmatzoun, adding spicy sauce. Feyrouz is environmentally minded, using paper, not plastic, where possible. The owners just opened another shop right across the street from this one, selling Middle Eastern sweets – dessert, anyone?
One of the oldest tavernas in town, Oikonomou opened its doors in the now trendy neighbourhood of Petralona in 1930. Its no-frills traditional recipes have made it a long-standing favourite among Athenians, and its tables, both inside and outside, are always packed. “I started going when I was a student and not a good cook yet and missed my mum’s home cooking,” Georgiadis says. But he’s never stopped going back. His favourite dishes include the rooster with pasta in tomato sauce, stewed beans and okra, and he always drinks the house tsipouro. The bill is usually accompanied by Greek yoghurt topped with a home-made fruit preserve such as quince.
Back in his student days, a group of Cretans let Georgiadis in on a secret: a meze specialist set inside an unassuming arcade in Exarchia. “We always start with the fried olives,” says Georgiadis, who admits to having had six-hour meals here. The house raki keeps flowing as you take on tangy goat’s cheese, stuffed courgette blossoms, slow-cooked lamb, juicy sausages, vegetable kaltsounia pies and other delicacies from the island of Crete.
A mouthwatering reason to venture beyond the historic centre of Athens – but probably not for vegetarians – Basegrill pulls no punches in its tagline, “Only our salt comes from the sea.” When it comes to meat, however, Basegrill “has become a reference point on Athens’s food scene”, says Georgiadis, even though it is located in the western suburb of Peristeri, far from the mainstays of downtown. The trio behind the restaurant scour the country to acquire the best Greek meats from small, independent farms and age the meat themselves. Try the black boar, or Georgiadis’s favourite, the beef carpaccio with wild rocket and truffle oil.
In a near-cavernous space with exposed cement columns and large floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the venue with light, FITA is one of the most exciting and affordable new additions to Athens’s dining scene. Here, experimentation with local products is taken to new heights, resulting in ever-changing dishes such as the ‘Greek sushi’, a tuna wrapped in vine leaves; grilled squid skewers; a beetroot and artichoke dish sprinkled with fish roe; and anything else that might arrive from their suppliers across the country, like lamb from Kimolos island or beans from from Kimolos island or beans from Lake Prespa.
Opened in June 2019, To Lokali (The Local) enchanted Georgiadis not only with its Greek-with-a-twist cuisine, but also its chilled-out friendly vibes and charming garden, which used to host an open-air cinema. Located in the buzzy neighbourhood of Psyrri, a stone’s throw from many of Athens’s most important archaeological sites, To Lokali is a great place to hang out with friends at any time of day, says Georgiadis. The food selection, including the brunch menu, centres on modern takes on traditional Greek cuisine. Try the fried okra or the lamb hot dog, and wash it down with a gin and tonic.
Looking for the perfect base to explore Athens? Take your pick, from the best hotels for all travellers and price ranges to beautiful boutique lodgings, now bookable through Culture Trip. Spend your days taking in the must-see sites in the ancient city, or lounging on it’s most beautiful beaches, and wash down your delicious meal at one of the best local restaurants with a drink at one of Athens’ best rooftop bars.
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