With no shortage of traditional tavernas, Athens is packed with options for savouring an authentic Greek meal you won’t soon forget.
From garlicky tzatziki to soutzoukakia meatballs, trying real Greek cuisine is bound to be high on the to-do list for anyone visiting Athens. The Greek capital is flush with eateries offering high-quality traditional dishes, combining fresh ingredients with family recipes and a welcoming atmosphere.
Athinaikon is an Athens institution when it comes to traditional Greek cuisine Courtesy of Athinaikon
Restaurant, Greek, $$$
First opened by founder Mr Gerodimos back in 1927, Klimataria is among the oldest tavernas in Athens. Located next to the city’s very first indoor theatre, Klimataria (meaning ‘hanging grapevine’) has not betrayed its beginnings, offering a trip back to the Athens of old. Pick a table under the vines and savour classic Greek dishes such as garlic-infused roast lamb and potatoes, onion pie, saganaki (fried cheese), and rooster in tomato sauce with home-made mashed potatoes. Also, on most nights, there’s live Greek music.
Anapsiktirio is a family-run eatery in the vibrant Psyrri neighbourhood | Courtesy of Anapsiktirio
The only way to find George and Ritsa’s ‘secret kitchen’ is to get to Sarri Street, look for a small convenience store with a big sign reading ‘Anapsiktirio’ (Refreshment Store), spot the half-opened door next to it and enter. Once inside this bona fide Greek kitchen, you’ll find the brother-and-sister duo busily preparing the dish of the day. If you’re too early, Ritsa will tell you to come back at 1pm when the food’s ready. Set on a busy backstreet in Psyrri, one of Athens’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, this family-run eatery has stayed true to its humble beginnings amid the surrounding neighbourhood’s transformation from artisan workshops to trendy bars, boutique hotels and coffee shops. Anapsiktirio offers a taste of Greek cucina povera among the new hang-outs. The duo serves one traditional dish per day, ranging from pork chops with fried potatoes to hearty chickpea soup. Portions are more than generous, and the feta cheese and extra garlicky tzatziki are recommended.
Athinaikon is known for its ‘old Athens’ atmosphere | Courtesy of Anapsiktirio
In the heart of the capital, very close to Omonoia Square, this historic Athenian institution has fed some of Greece’s most renowned artists, academics and politicians. Three legendary chefs from Smyrna joined forces in 1923 and opened Athinaikon right beside the Athenian courts. In 1981, word got out that the courts would be relocating, and the business was sold to two university students – a seemingly risky move as most of the restaurant’s regulars were lawyers. The two friends eventually moved it to a more central location in 1985, and their loyal clientele followed. The all-wooden interior of Athinaikon adds to the aristocratic ‘old Athens’ atmosphere. Try the grilled sardines, lakerda (pickled bonito) and crab croquettes. Meat lovers will enjoy the ‘Drunk Pan’ (lightly fried pork, cooked in olive oil with wine, herbs and peppers).
Some of the best eateries in Athens don’t need flashy, attention-grabbing signs or a menu. Walk through one of the two sets of doors (diporto means two doors) and down into a rustic cellar. If there’s a seat available, you’ll be served what has been prepared for the day, starting with bread and horiatiki (Greek salad). In what seems like 30 seconds, your mains will follow, as will a carafe of the house wine, which is stored in barrels that form a part of the taverna’s decor. Dishes change with the season, with hearty bean or chickpea soups served during the colder months. You might also be offered fried sardines, potatoes cooked in red sauce, fava (yellow split pea purée) or stewed beef. Located in the central and somewhat chaotic Varvakeios area, Díporto is set just a short walk from Monastiraki metro station.
In the leafy northern neighbourhood of Chalandri, Kitsoulas Taverna has achieved cult status. Its regulars not only dine here often but also call in on Sunday mornings to secure their takeaway Sunday lunch. The story begins in 1946 with Yiayia Maria, wife of Christos Kitsoulas, who used to cook for fellow suburbanites with her daughter Chrysoula. As the suburb of Chalandri expanded, business picked up, and more family members started helping out. Today, the extremely busy taverna is run by Chrysoula’s husband (who occasionally sings on his way to the tables) and their adult children. High-quality ingredients are sourced daily from local shops and producers. The decor is classic taverna style – simple and rustic. Try the cabbage rolls, lamb fricassee and rooster in red sauce. If you’re vegetarian, try the stuffed courgette, fasolada (bean soup) or the stuffed tomatoes.
Ouzeri Lesvos boasts its very own vintage jukebox | Courtesy of Ouzeri Lesvos
The island of Lesvos (Mytilene) is famous for its seafood meze: grilled sardines, sardeles pastes (raw sardines salted and drizzled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice), and boiled and grilled octopus. Since 1967, all these delicacies have also been savoured at Ouzeri Lesvos in Athens. The late ’60s and early ’70s were a time of political turmoil in Greece, and the restaurant was a meeting place for the intelligentsia. The atmosphere is reminiscent of another time, with its red-and-white chequered tablecloths and old mosaic marble flooring. Maps of the island adorn the walls, and a vintage jukebox sits near the kitchen. Try the fresh clams or cockles, the velvety fava with freshly chopped shallots, the divine mint-infused meatballs or the meatless courgette patties.
Koutouki means a small taverna, serving delectable food and wines. When arriving at To Koutouki Tou Thoma (Thomas’s Koutouki), you might well think you’ve made a wrong turn and are heading into an apartment building. Fear not – Thomas’s younger brother, Manos, will greet you and lead you straight to the tiny kitchen. He lifts the lids off all the pots and pans, showing off the dishes he has lovingly prepared. There’s quite a selection, and deciding what to eat can be tough. Some of his staple dishes are soutzoukakia (meatballs flavoured with cumin, cooked in aromatic tomato sauce), stuffed cabbage leaves, gigantes (large beans baked in tomato sauce) and makaronia me kima (Greek-style spaghetti bolognese). To Koutouki Tou Thoma is handily located in a central residential neighbourhood, near the Agios Ioannis metro stop.