Save yourself from tourist traps and outdated Athens food guides. Here’s all you need to know about the local food culture in a city that slowly emerges as the new European food and drink destination. But first, let’s start from:
Our social Mediterranean lifestyle
Dining out in Greece is a big part of our Mediterranean way of living. We grew up sharing our meals at big tables with family and friends, to boost our social life and feel connected to our loved ones. At Greek restaurants, it’s usually one or two people who actually care what is served exactly, the rest are there for the “parea”- Greek word for fellowship- and the fun around it, longing for a convivial dining experience and letting go of any worries.
The Athens food scene – what’s happening right now
Athens slowly emerges as one of the most interesting food scenes in the world, becoming a food lovers destination itself. Along with traditional Greek food establishments, there are now countless choices offering diversity and good quality. From street food to Athens fine dining, here’s our guide to eat your way through Athens and not feel like a tourist, but right at home.
Athens street food scene is currently booming, offering traditional bites along with international morsels on the go.
The souvlaki cult
The “king of the streets”, is undoubtedly souvlaki or gyro. Warm pita bread filled with chunks or slices of tender meat, juicy tomatoes, creamy tzatziki and crisp fries, (yes, the fries in it) offer a sensation in every bite. Make a mess, it’s part of the experience! Souvlaki is hard to miss, as food joints stand in every corner, and some stay open till the wee hours. Souvlaki is the first choice that comes in our mind when on a short lunch break or late at night when we unwind after a long day and cooking feels like drudgery.
Join our Athens Street food tour- Day & Night for an intro to traditional Greek street food culture.
Breakfast is not a big thing in Greece and locals usually rush to work every morning. Still, we manage to find time to pass by our favourite bakery and grab a straight out of the oven tiropita (cheese pie) or spanakopita (spinach pie) to nibble till lunchtime. If you see something that looks like pizza on the side, this our second favourite choice for the day. It’s called peinirli and it’s an open, boat-shaped bread with melting cheese and anything else you can imagine on top.
Start your morning with traditional Greek breakfast on our Taste Athens Food Walk & Lunch. Book in small group or privately.
Street vendors and cheap eats
There are countless street food stands scattered around Athen’s streets that sell a bread ring with sesame seeds that looks like a bagel. Koulouri must be eaten early in the morning when it’s still fresh and a. crisp or b. fluffy – either of the two versions is tasty in its simplicity.
Later at night, stroll the pedestrian streets around the Acropolis, enjoying corn on the cob or chestnuts roasted on open fire.
* Still awake after midnight suffering from insomnia or just hard partying? No worries, there’s still chance for late-night grubs. Here’s a locals’ guilty pleasure: queue up in line to an after-hours food truck serving “dirty” (vromiko in Greek) sandwiches to satisfy your cravings before hitting the bed.
Our pick of the day: Cantina Bella
Although nothing close to traditional, we highly recommend this place as the most gourmet “dirty” street food found in Athens – just a stone’s throw from the Acropolis, plus, its genuine rock and roll vibe. Hungry beasts may try their Smoked Hot Dog with beef sausage or their vegan extravaganza called Mushroomlafel.
Greek tavernas – our cherished dens
Considered our kind of holy ground, Greek tavernas mean much more to us than just places to feed our bellies, as at the same time they are our:
Soul-saving hideouts. To meet up with friends or colleagues and let off steam, pour in some drinks and catch the last beams of sunlight before heading back home.
Family rituals. Sunday’s regular get-togethers when the weather is warm and sunny or mum wants a day off from the kitchen.
Celebrations venues. Birthdays, namedays, weddings, anniversaries, all our significant life moments happen here, – even sad ones – blended with melodies of Greek music.
Comfort zones. Coming again and again for that specific dish the way our late or far away mothers and grandmothers make it. A place where things stay forever the way they are.
Some tavernas specialise in the kind of Greek food they offer.
So, we have the ‘hasapotaverna’ – our grillhouse, where huge portions of meat, like pork chops or lamb on the spit are served on the table with tzatziki, fries, Greek salad and charcoaled bread drizzled with olive oil and oregano.
Yummy picks: Just landed in Athens suffering from long flight and bad airplane food? Head straight to nearby Kalyvia area to get yourself a generous dose of finger-licking lamb or pork chops, the kind you deserve after a long day’s trip. [We recommend: To Trigono]
On the other side of the table, we have “psarotaverna”, our fish and seafood restaurant in Greece. Best enjoyed with your feet in the sand or at least on a waterfront perch, clinging your glasses and watching the sun sunk into the sea. Numerous choices to be found by the port of Piraeus or along the Athens Riviera. [Recommended by our local fishermen: To Limani, in Palaia Fokaia. Fresh fish from the Aegean and vegetables from their own orchard. Ask for a “tour” of their freshly caught Greek fish for a close eye-to-eye inspection.]
No-frills, low-cost eateries, usually popular during lunchtime, although some are open 24/7 to cater for the “nightwatch” of the city. Life-saving for busy workers, lazy cooks, students or loners with no one to care for them at home.
Watch the day’s specials on display in front of you like live images from a Greek cookbook and make your choice trusting your eyes, your appetite or just the cook’s hint. Better than any photo menus displayed at restaurants on the touristic route.
Pick of the day: Olympion, named after the Temple of Olympian Zeus close by. You see the sights+bites combo, right?
Want to experience Greek hospitality at a mom-and-pop restaurant in Athens, “alive” for more than 30 years? Hop on our Athens Evening Food Tour & Dinner.
This is where the quote “sharing is caring” comes into action. Shared plates are served in the middle of the table, giving the signal for fork battles to begin! Mezedes are our Greek tapas, for family-style dining in smaller portions (Greek small portions, so expect regular size 🙂
Food is merely the occasion here to gather around the table and drink some Greek wine, beer or ouzo, toasting to love, heartbreak and friendship. Or even finding love and new friends, as usually your friends invite over other friends who bring their own friends, and by the end of the night you all become one happy “parea” = party of friends. Sometimes Greek music and dance are involved to stir it up a little.
A separate section must be devoted to our nostalgic timecapsules, hidden from plain sight. This is where you come to live a truly alternative Greek experience, the one to keep in memory forever. Walking down a few stairs, you find yourself in an underground universe, reminiscent of Athens in the ‘50s. House wine is served straight from huge barrels decorating the walls, portions of stews, grilled meats or meze are cooked by a yiayia and served by family. The vibe is relaxed and friendly but may easily turn into an impromptu dionysian feast, if live bands or street musicians happen to be in the place.
[For your eyes only, we recommend: Marathonitis, a secret off-centre koutouki, to be found only by those in the know].
Best described, researched and, first and foremost experienced, Greek taverns are to be discovered in the book “The Athenian taverna” (sadly in Greek only, so you will need translation).
Athens delis are the new dine-ins. Their set up echoes back to the “mpakalotavernas” of the past. A popular black-and-white Greek movies setting, “mpakalotaverna” used to be a humble grocery store that catered simply made dishes to the working class of the area. While you can still find a few places preserving the same yesteryear atmosphere, -like the WWII survivor, “Eidikon” in Piraeus-, new deli owners have taken the concept to new level. Enter their magic world of kaleidoscopic colours and tantalising aromas, and treat your appetite to Greek delicacies, based strictly on local products.
Our pick: Benito in Glyfada. An idiosyncratic deli business in Athens, owned by a Greek-Italian family who came from Istanbul and managed to build a loyal clientele among Southern suburbians. Their store and dine-in is packed with world flavours true to their origins and quality, known for years now.
Contemporary Greek restaurants
A few years back, culinary diversity and creativity was harder to find in Athens. Recently all changed when bold, young chefs started taking things in their hands and experimenting with Greek food tradition without losing connection with their roots. So, we recommend, after tasting the basics of our Greek culinary culture, to move forward and discover the new wave of modern Greek cuisine, – we promise your experience will not dissapoint.
What to expect: regional Greek recipes with a twist and gourmet Greek products you’ve never heard of.
Pick of the day: Holy goat. A punk-bistrot running as a joint-run, collective business that does not require a splurge. Fixation to quality and whimsical temperament. Plus, you can take a beautiful walk from the centre, crossing Filopappou Hill and ancient Koilis route till you find your way to the charming neighbourhood of Petralona.
Greek fine dining
Athens is currently home to 5 Michelin restaurants and every year chefs raise the bar higher. Fully aligned with international trends, determined to leave their mark on the Greek gastronomic scene. We will always keep you updated with new posts or even take you with us to enjoy a premium Greek gastronomic experience to the fullest.
[Our pick of the day: Alficon]