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.
Restaurant, Greek, $$$
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.
Ama Lachei is housed in a former school | Courtesy of Ama Lachei
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.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Restaurant, Contemporary, Greek
The menu at rooftop restaurant Hytra changes with the seasons | Courtesy of Hytra
High up on the sixth floor of the Onassis Cultural Centre (you can always combine it with a performance downstairs), Hytra rewards those who venture up with unobstructed panoramic views of the Acropolis and Athens skyline, and a Michelin-star menu comprising inventive, high-end Greek cuisine and a slew of signature cocktails to go with it. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience,” says Georgiadis. The menu changes with the seasons, meaning that the ingredients are fresh and the dishes always a surprise. Georgiadis recommends choosing either the 8- or 14-course tasting menus, which also offer a vegetarian option.
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.
Basegrill is unashamedly meat-focussed | Courtesy of Basegrill
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.
Spondi was Athens’s first Michelin-star restaurant | Courtesy of Spondi
For a long time Greece’s only Michelin-star restaurant (now it has two), Spondi has defined fine dining in Athens for two decades. Situated behind the white marble Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, it’s the only high-end, pricier restaurant that Georgiadis visits regularly. Artfully presented with carefully chosen seasonal ingredients, there’s not a bland entry to be had, from the white truffle ravioli and honeyed crab with tarragon and turnips to the barely braised challans duck. And the desserts? “From another planet,” says Georgiadis.
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.
Just a 12-minute metro ride from downtown Athens, nothing about the residential neighbourhood of Ilioupoli signals that one Athens’s best-loved Asian restaurants is to be found on its sleepy streets. Chau’s quietly packs in diners, who can’t get enough of the Vietnamese raw spring rolls and juicy udon noodles. The friendly staff at this family-run establishment may not speak much Greek or English, “but that’s never been a problem whenever I’ve gone – I just point at the pictures on the menu, and everything is always great”, says Georgiadis.