From the very heart of the Mediterranean basin, Greek cuisine is made up of a wide variety of dishes mirroring the long history, the variegated landscape and the crossroads’ nature of this country. From my personal experience in Athens Greek cuisine is full of meat (it was literally everywhere!) as traditional fish dishes are more likely to be found on the islands, vegetables and tasty savory pies (tyropita –the one with cheese- and spanakopita –filled with spinach- a.k.a. the Greek version on my beloved Balkan burek). Wandering around downtown Athens you will find plenty of nice restaurants, taverns and cafés: here is a selection of my favourite ones!
Καλή σας όρεξη!
Enjoy your meal!
Not only foodies, but any visitor can’t miss a tour of Athens’ Central Market (Varvakios Agorà, on Athinas street between Evripidou street and Sofokleous street). During my week in Athens I went there three times: once to visit it, once to eat at its restaurants and again on my last day in town to buy some presents to bring back home, such as Greek olives, cheeses, spices and herbs.
The market is divided into two main sections: the open-air part where you will find fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and the world-known Greek olives, while within the 19th century iron-and-glass complex you will find meat and fish counters, plus some very local cafés and small restaurants to try some authentic Greek food.
The Central Market is among the places where I detected Athens’ Balkan vibe at its best: vendors shouting their prices, ladies glancing at the food counters with their well-practiced look, lots of kiosks on the streets surrounding the market complex, elderly Greek men slowly sipping a coffee at the bars within the market place while “supervising” the situation and that vibrant atmosphere always traversing any bazaar in any corner of the world.
As I said, once I also came here to eat: I entered one of the many small eateries within the meat-and-fish complex, I pointed at some Greek specialties through the window and tasted them with a bottle of Greek beer. The food was very good (where else could you find fresher food, anyway?), but I especially liked the atmosphere of that restaurant: both the owner and the old people sitting beside me wanted to know if I liked the food and from there they started an interesting chat about some basics of Greek cuisine and the differences between the seaside cuisine (mostly known in its Cypriot version) and the culinary traditions of the Attica region.
If you are into food and food markets, as I am, you should also know that Saturday is the day of farmers’ markets in Athens: each neighbourhood has its own farmers’ market and I visited the one in Exarchia and the one in Perissos, both very interesting for the way they mingle with the characteristic traits of the neighbourhood where they take place.
At the farmers’ market in Exarchia (Laiki Agora, Kallidromiou street) the backdrop to every stand is a street art mural, as Exarchia is known to be the colorful neighborhood of anarchist students. Some of these murals are about politics, as suits this ever-rebellious neighbourhood surrounded by police squads in full riot gear, others are just beautiful, and the mixed effect of the street art and the farmers’ products will amaze you!
Located in a former industrial area in the northern suburbs of Athens, the farmers’ market in Perissos (Laiki Agora, Salaminos street) will surprise you with its abandoned chimneys appearing behind the stands. Nearby you can also enter a former factory now transformed into a huge supermarket: the big industrial structure is just few steps away from the farmers’ market.
TO STEKI TOU ILIA (THISSIO)
Address: Eptachalkou 5
On my first night in Athens I ate at this traditional Psistaria (a restaurant serving grilled meat) in the nice area of Thissio, just outside the tourist radar. This is an authentic eatery frequented by locals, very simple and definitely not pretentious. Here I had a cabbage salad and some tasty lamb chops from the softest meat, served with a glass of the wine of the house: it was a really welcoming dinner, of those letting you foretaste all delicious meals coming next!
MANAS KOUZINA KOUZINA (AGIAS IRINIS)
Address: Aiolou 27
Just few steps from the hip area of Agias Irinis, Manas Kouzina Kouzina is a simple place where you can eat traditional Greek food while looking at the bustle on Ailou street from a big window. The service is fast as all food is already made and you will choose it through the glass counter, but this doesn’t mean that the quality is low, quite the contrary!
GAZI COLLEGE (GAZI)
Address: Persefonis 53
A former industrial area, the Gazi district became the trendy place to be, where clubs and fancy cocktail bars are mushrooming all around, gay clubs included. Bustling at night, during the day Gazi district doesn’t lose its charm and it is certainly easier to enjoy Gazi’s restaurants without the night crowd. My pick was the Gazi College, a hipster restaurant whose walls are covered by wooden bookshelf and it has globes and reproductions of the solar system all around. The food choice isn’t traditional at all, featuring a wide range of burgers and salads, but the food is good and the hip vibe is making it even better!
Address: Valtetsiou 59
Rozalia was the only restaurant where I met fellow foreigners! I am not implying that the restaurant is touristic or the food is low quality, though… I had a great traditional dinner here! (…maybe a bit too heavy, but that’s Greek food! And anyway, if you are replete, you can always call the resident cat to your table and he will love to help you finish your meal ). Here I had a vegetable pie (a kind of burek) and pork souvlaki from a very soft meat, both very tasty!
Address: Pericleous 46
I noticed this hidden alley while wandering around downtown Athens and I already loved it for what it looked on a lazy holiday morning.
Little did I know that this charming alley also hosts a lovely restaurant (the best place where I ate in Athens, actually) that gives off nice smell and jazz music at night! This restaurant is very tiny, a true hidden gem: there is a small kitchen in view and some tables within the alley. The food is simple and tasty and the atmosphere is really pleasant! The place is so cute I couldn’t help falling in love with it!
CAFES, TEA ROOMS, PUBS AND MORE
PEONIA HERBS (THISSIO)
Address: Amfiktyonos 12
A very cute tea room with a mezzanine floor where you can get your own customized blend out from many different qualities of tea. Here I also bought a Tibetan black tea to bring back home (and I am sipping it right now, while writing about how lovely this tea room is…), they have a wide selection of teas and infusions and some cozy tables to sit down and taste them. The place smells of wood and herbs, the atmosphere is very relaxed and calming, the tea menu is only in Greek but the friendly waiter will surely help you!
CANTINA SOCIAL (PSYRRI)
Address: Leokoriou 6
Well, this is one of those places which instantly got a special spot in my travel memories. It is lovely without aiming to be trendy, hipster or anything, there was an old radio tuned in on Greek music and some old Greek men having a great time
I started to chat with the owner while he attempted to make me a cappuccino (“Is it coffee and ice, right?”), he has some relatives living in Italy and of course he knows all about Italian football and so by the time I got my cappuccino (“It’s the first cappuccino I made in my life!”) the ice was broken (and –luckily- it didn’t end up within the coffee!) and my new friend was sitting at my table.
The place also has a nice outdoor garden, but unfortunately my week in Athens was exceptionally cold and rainy and so I didn’t have the chance to enjoy the outdoor area.
Address: Tsakalof 7
I walked all my way up to the posh neighbourhood of Athens only to taste the pure Greek frozen yogurt from this shop. If you are a foodie, this is a recipe you really can’t miss! As in any frozen yogurt bar you will find many different toppings to choose from; I went for puffed rice and Goji berries and my yogurt was really yummy! Just be sure to go for the smaller size, as it is already a full meal by itself.
BARLEY CARGO (SYNTAGMA)
Address: Kolokotroni 6
This pub is well-known for serving a wide selection of Greek craft beers, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed with the selection! It is very crowded and loud, especially at night, but that’s part of the fun.
BOOZE COOPERATIVA (SYNTAGMA)
Address: Kolokotroni 57
Another great place to hang out at night, but also during the day. It has a long wooden table to share with young people working from their laptops and chess players absorbed by the game, a mezzanine floor to get a bird-view on the hipster furniture, high ceilings, lamps which can be easily considered art installations and an underground art gallery, which unfortunately was closed during my week in Athens.
Address: Themistokleous 66
This is the place where I went with the street artist STMTS (you can read the interview here). It is a squatted place within the ever-rebellious Exarchia, so you can expect a simple selection of food and beverages spiced up with an alternative crowd, a wide range of cultural activities and discussions, some street art and the feeling to be right where “the movement” spread. The centre organizes several classes and workshops, movie screenings and many other events, and there you can also find a music studio and a library.