Ask any local where to eat on Santorini, and they’ll point you in the direction of Exo Gonia, a village six kilometres (3.7 miles) from Thira. Upon arriving in the village (park by the church), you’ll find Metaxi Mas down a set of steps leading from the car park. Don’t fret, it’s worth the expedition – you’ll be greeted with a platter of olives, barley rusks, cheese and raki (Cretan spirit). Kostas and Dimitris (the proprietors) hail from Crete, and the menu is sprinkled with Cretan specialties like Sfakiani pita (traditional Cretan cheese pie with honey), apaki (cured pork) and stamnagathi greens (wild chicory), although it’s also packed with fresh Santorinian ingredients. An all-round flawless line-up ranging from classic local specialities including fava, white aubergine with feta, and revithada (chickpea stew) to richer seafood giouvetsi (a hearty pot of saffron-infused orzo, shrimp and mussels), broccoli soufflé, and grilled pleurotous (oyster mushrooms). Finish off with galaktoboureko, a semolina-based custard wrapped in syrupy golden phyllo. Booking ahead is a must.
A refined pan-Cycladic dining experience with a mind-blowing view, ‘Red Bicycle’ operates out of a restored cliffside mansion in the Instagram-famous town of Oia. Rumoured to have the best balcony on Santorini, its romantic setting is made more cutting-edge with contemporary Greek artwork. The menu is studded with savvy combinations and inventive presentation, and is updated seasonally. Look out for Mediterranean delicacies such as sea urchin with truffle oil on black garlic bread, octopus with black lentils drizzled with an orange-infused sweet onion sauce, and moussaka with foie gras and an aubergine and metsovone (Greek cheese) mousse. Dessert means Greek classics with a twist. Kokkino Podilato is ideal for those with inquisitive palates and slightly deeper pockets.
True to its name, Spilia Tou Nikola is a real cave that really did belong to a fisherman named Nikolas. Nikolas had initially dug into the volcanic rock to form a shelter for his small boat but was later (in 1967) persuaded to convert it into a taverna; someone had to feed the excavation teams at Akrotiri (a Minoan Bronze Age archaeological site). He and his wife started off by serving local classics and fresh fish, while their daughter, Margarita, took over in 1981 and added to the menu, serving up scrumptious, extra crispy tomato fritters (there’s also a seafood version with cod). Her son, Minas, came to the helm in 2001 – underscoring that Spilia Tou Nikola is truly a family affair. The family owns their own farm, and offer farm-to-table dining: expect feel-good Greek taverna classics including fava, melt-in-your-mouth lamb in a clay pot, skordomakaronada (garlic-infused spaghetti) and even a vegetarian moussaka layered with the island’s own white aubergine. In addition, there’s fresh fish and free flowing house wine. Beware: traditional dancing erupts seemingly out of nowhere.
To Psaraki welcomes guests with dark red cherry tomato spread, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with wild oregano. Since it opened its doors in 2010, this unpretentious seafood taverna has transformed the southern tip of Santorini into a first-rate gastro destination. To Psaraki guarantees a seriously good seafood fix, serving up fresh ‘catches of the day’ alongside a rich mix of other fish dishes. The menu includes a few meat options, but no need to stray when the seafood is so good. From the selection of starters comes a knockout ceviche and impeccable non-seafood sidekicks, such as homemade dolmadakia (rice-filled vine leaves) and grilled manouri (goat’s cheese) with basil pesto. Poached pear in Assyrtiko wine is the perfect end to the meal.
Eating at Roza’s is like eating in your Greek aunt’s kitchen. Located in the village of Vourvoulos, the setting is nothing to write home about – but the food definitely is. Roza’s humble joint is a family affair: Roza’s in the kitchen; Maro, her daughter, greets and serves; her husband is out tending the garden, fishing and hunting (where do you think everything you’re going to eat comes from?). Fresh homemade cheese, fluffy tomato fritters, hand-cut fries and the matriarch’s celebrated stewed rabbit are all must-tries. As for dessert, have some good old-fashioned Greek yoghurt.
Ta Dichtia offers the ultimate Greek taverna experience, right by the water on the black sandy beach of Perivolos. Running for over 30 years strong and listed among the top 20 fish tavernas in Greece, Ta Dichtia specialises in ‘sea to chargrill to table’ seafood, classic salads and wild greens. The Santorinian Salad is a standout (a compelling get-together of vinegar-drenched anchovies, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, wild capers, sun-dried tomatoes and cheese) and the bougiourdi (baked tomato, spicy red peppers, feta and oregano).
This rustic, bougainvillea-adorned courtyard is tucked away off the main street in buzzy Thira. The menu is simply an homage to the family’s yiayia (grandmother) and her slow-cooking technique perfected over years of practice. Enjoy a leisurely meal of simple, seasonal fare with a carafe (or two) of house wine. Mains are generous and range from chicken with a velvety ouzo and honey sauce to Greece’s most loved comfort food, gemista (rice-filled vegetables, mainly tomatoes). There’s no caldera view here, but when the food is this good, who cares?
On a secluded beach beneath the crowds of Oia Town rests what may just be the best vegan meze bar in all of Greece, let alone Santorini. Get there before sunset, secure a seat at the bar and choose from the sumptuous line-up of vegan meze and salad options (over 25 on the menu). The phyllo rolls with mashed sweet potato, spinach, vegan cheese and caramelised onions with a dill mayo sauce are a hit, as is the baked herbed vegan feta. As expected, Santorini’s white aubergine makes an appearance on the menu; it’s grilled to perfection and served with a walnut pesto sauce. The homemade whole wheat gnocchi is sautéed to magnificence in a concoction of cranberry butter, capers and baby spinach. Whether you’re vegan or not, Katharos Lounge shouldn’t be missed.