Known as a centre of counterculture, Athens’s Exarchia neighbourhood is fast becoming a foodie hotspot. Discover the best restaurants in the area, from traditional tavernas to modern establishments serving food from around the world.
With a long history of activism under its belt, the central Athenian neighbourhood of Exarchia now boasts some of the city’s most acclaimed restaurants. It isn’t just the young ‘rebels’ and artists that fill the restaurants lining its graffiti-covered streets, though – Athenians and visitors are flocking to this gritty yet charming area to enjoy Greco-Spanish fusion tapas, surf ’n’ turf and mezedes.
Ama Lachei is known for its first-class meze Courtesy of Ama Lachei
La Cantina Exarchia
Restaurant, Mexican, Lebanese, Italian, Indian
Though set in the heart of Exarchia, La Cantina invites diners to travel the gastronomic map of the world. Inspired by street-food canteens from across the globe, this tiny multicultural kitchen cooks up traditional fare from Italy and Lebanon to India and Mexico. The menu is full of comfort-food classics, including Indian chicken curry, Mexican chilli con carne, Italian meatballs in red sauce, smooth French soups and divine Lebanese baba ganoush. Make your meal extra special by ordering a minty mojitio, which costs around half the price you’d expect to pay at a bar.
With a 1930s Bauhaus exterior and an interior reminiscent of a Pedro Almodóvar film set, Salero is a Greco-Spanish haven in the centre of Athens. This buzzy spot stays open until quite late (the kitchen sometimes closes after 2am), welcoming Athenian theatre actors to wind down and graze on tapas after their performances. The line-up of tapas is impressive and will delight all diners, whatever their preferences or dietary requirements. Seasoning your choice of fare might pose the biggest dilemma, as the restaurant’s enviable selection of salt is hard to choose from: Hawaiian black pearl, pink flakes from the Himalayas, fleur de sel from France, to mention just a few. If you’re in need of something heartier, there’s also a substantial list of mains. The salads, in particular, are a work of art; don’t miss the mixed lettuce with goat’s cheese, cranberries and lime pesto vinaigrette. Start an evening out with innovative cocktails at the bar, making use of the daily happy hour from 6pm-9pm.
Sousourada triples as a café, mezedopoleio and wine bar | Courtesy of Sousourada
Sousourades, or ‘wagtails’, are birds that like to fly low, often over vineyards. This in part explains the impressive wine list that all-day hangout Sousourada prides itself on. Located on Mavromichali Street, with mosaic flooring similar to what you’d find in a traditional kafeneio (coffee shop) but spruced up with contemporary industrial overtones, Sousourada is a modern Greek hotspot that triples as a café, mezedopoleio and wine bar. Mornings come alive with artisan blended coffee and sandwiches, after which meze dishes start making their appearance: sweet cherry tomatoes with carob barley rusks, caper leaves with mizithra cheese from Paros, fava (yellow split-pea puree) with octopus and smoked red pepper, and pork meatballs served with a creamy lime yoghurt dip. Evenings are for wine tasting at the romantically lit bar; the by-the-glass menu offers wines sourced from both local and more far-flung vineyards, ready to be paired with one (or four) of the aforementioned meze dishes.
Stroll along the pedestrian street of Valtetsiou and suddenly you’re walking through a Greek village lined with olive, chestnut and mulberry trees. At number 59, the reasonably priced Rozalia has been serving hungry patrons since 1978. Owner Mr Achilleas planted the trees himself back in 1980, aiming to create a small oasis in the middle of concrete-clad Exarchia. While the kitchen serves up classics with a “no preservatives mentality” (the tavernia has been sourcing meat from nearby free-grazing farms and fresh fish from local fishermen since the very start), it often experiments for the sake of its younger crowd. Take a seat, and a tray loaded with meze and salads swiftly appears (don’t miss the fried zucchini sticks or the Rozalia salad – fresh beets, lettuce, slivered cabbage and carrots, apples, raisins and walnuts drizzled with honey and balsamic vinegar). Then comes a choice of main dishes: the grilled peppered pork, lamb chops, leek-infused sausage, kokkinisto (beef stew) and talagani (a cheese similar to halloumi) are standouts. Dessert means old-school Greek pastries – all home-made.
Doubling up as a takeaway and sit-down spot, this Exarchia surf ’n’ turf souvlaki and burger joint is in a class of its own, serving up street food fit for a prince (prigipas in Greek). The owner, Kostis, sources his meat from small farms, which is then artfully prepared and grilled over charcoal. Apart from the classic souvlaki wraps (pork, beef, lamb, chicken), there’s the veggie kebab and, more unusually, smoked trout in a fluffy corn pitta. Kostis hails from a region in Northern Greece known for its lakes, where meat and fish often sit side by side on the table. The renowned tsipouro (local spirit) from Giannitsa in Northern Greece and the Amyntaio wine complete your exhilarating gastronomic tour at Prigipas.
Ama Lachei is housed in a former school | Courtesy of Ama Lachei
At the foot of Strefi Hill (the greenest spot in Exarchia) sits the iconic Ama Lachei, a taverna housed in a Neoclassical building that used to be the neighbourhood’s primary school. The old schoolyard is now a classy dining space, adorned with jasmine vines, aromatic citrus trees and rows of tables. The inside, however, has stayed true to its roots, with old pictures of students dotting the walls. No reservations are taken, and there are no mains to be found on the menu – just a plethora of scrummy meze. The Meze of the Day usually stars seafood and/or seasonal produce. Staple meze range from savoury baklava with gravieracheese to octopus in green pea puree.
Another quaint courtyard nestled between the graffitied walls of Exarchia is Giántes. Just a few metres shy of the neighbourhood’s main square, the taverna takes its name from a game that the local children used to play. This cosy, colourful eatery deals in organic feel-good Greek classics. Flavours are reassuringly authentic, but the presentation is progressive. The starter menu is filled with the likes of dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) with lemon cream to grilled mastelo cheese with mandarin marmalade. Mains such as leg of lamb (slow-cooked in an olive oil, rosemary and lemon vinaigrette with celery puree, and sauteed wild greens), shrimp with creamy orzo and Greek-style beef patties with a generous portion of fries, all deserve a mention. The bread is baked daily in-house and, if you’re a chocoholic, be sure to secure your chocolate pie (served with vanilla ice cream) before you order anything else – it disappears fast.