Eat like a local at these Athenian tavernas. This is where we go for cheap midweek dinners or long Sunday lunches.
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There are few things as good as a meal that tastes just like your grandmother’s cooking. That’s what we love about taverna food—it’s comforting, nourishing, and tastes like your yiayia made it with love just for you. Athens has so many tavernas, it can be hard to decide where to go. That’s why we are giving you the lowdown on the traditional tavernas that we keep going back to. The ones with the meatballs we can’t get enough of; or the seafood situation that’ll have you ordering one of everything. If you take one thing away from our round-up of our favourite tavernas in Athens, it’s that the staff really loves Olympion—so put that one at the top of your list.
Thomas Gravanis, Head of Photography
Yperokeanio is a picturesque fish tavern in Piraeus. It’s decorated with memorabilia from trans-Atlantic boat trips from the 1950s and ‘60s—think old-school posters and model ships with chipped paint. Sardines and fried courgettes (chopped up like French fries) should definitely be part of your order.
Kafeneio on Mercouri Square in Ano Petralona is the place you go to taste the finest meatballs. They taste like little bites of heaven. Always—and I mean every single time I have been there—I order the exact same thing: meatballs (of course), fries, tyrokafteri (a spicy cheese dip) and beer. I firmly believe there’s no such thing as too many meatballs. Keep ‘em coming.
Olympion in Mets is my go-to option when I’m starving. It’s a two minute walk from my place, so for the past seven years I’ve been a regular whenever I didn’t feel like cooking. I’m telling you, the biftekia (beef patties) here are easily the best you’ll have in your entire life. No exaggeration. It’s mostly filled with locals from Mets, but I’ve noticed that lately it’s a favourite among tourists too.
One of those reliable neighbourhood tavernas that hasn’t become a victim of its own success, Therapeftirio is a great place for seafood that doesn’t cost a fortune. The décor is pure kitsch, but it’s cosy indoors when the woodstove is fired up in winter. But it’s best on warm evenings, when you sit out under the bitter orange trees feasting on courgette fritters, tangy taramosalata garnished with lots of dill, and perfectly crisp red mullet.
Katherine Whittaker, Contributor
I have a well-documented soft spot for Cretan food, and I have a couple of favourites around the city, including Rakoumel in Exarchia. This family-run place is really the full package: amazing food and drinks, great atmosphere and wonderful live music—I love coming to the rebetika nights here. If you come during the Saturday farmer’s market, try to snag a streetside table and get ready to people-watch over small plates of great food and raki. Lots of raki.
I had been looking forward to going to Phita for months. Pretty much since the day it opened, I was salivating over my friends’ photos (one of them went once a week through July). When I finally got to try it for myself, it did not disappoint. Think old-school taverna food, like wilted greens, grilled mushrooms with shaved cheese piled on top, and mussels doused in a buttery, garlicky broth (eat ‘em with your hands), but with a few non-traditional twists, like fried cod sitting on a bed of garlicky beans and beetroot puree. They also have a great drinks list. My suggestion? Get the house red wine. It’s rich and complex and less than €3 a glass.
I’m not sure how serene eating near the dead sounds to you, but that’s how I feel every time I go to Olympion near the First Cemetery of Athens. Olympion is as traditional as a Greek taverna can get, located in Mets, a pretty neighbourhood you should definitely spend a day getting lost in. Go all-in on whatever looks good to you, but be warned: the portions here are really generous. Try the Greek salad, anything from the ladera (vegetables slow-cooked with olive oil and tomato sauce, like okra, aubergines, or beans) and my personal favourite, makaronia me kima (spaghetti Bolognese).
Maria Kostaki, Senior Editor
I’m a seafood addict. During the warmer months, the tavernas down by the seaside are harder to get to from where I live. So I’ve scrounged northern Athens for the best places to get my fix. Chromata Vythou in Erythrea never fails me. Their ‘fish gyro’ is something you’ll write home about. Their fish is always fresh and whoever grills it is a master. I’ve never had to add salt, lemon or oil. Never.
For a casual atmosphere and a meze situation there’s Ivilai, in Erythrea. The karavidopsiha (fried crayfish), grilled octopus, smoked eel with fava and grilled shrimp with honey and thyme is my standard order. Once, we were a large crowd and ordered one of everything on the menu. Maybe one dish didn’t live up to our expectations. And I can’t even remember what it was.
Rarely a week goes by without us hitting up To Panorama tis Voulas, a cheap and cheerful grill house near us in the hilly southern suburb of Panorama. Visiting friends adore the charming “only in Greece” setting. It's a renovated house overlooking a Greek Orthodox cathedral, with necklaces of chilli and garlic hanging from painted beams, and contented cats curled up outside. Whether we’re eating as a family or with a big gang, our routine rarely budges: a medley of super-tasty souvlaki (chicken, beef, pork, and mushroom skewers), and their juicy, deboned whole chicken on the grill. Throw in some oven-baked feta with chillies and tomatoes (careful it has kick) and a Greek or dakos salad. Once the kids are done, we shoo them over the road to the basketball courts and playground. Keep your eyes peeled for a Greek wedding making its way down the marble staircase of Agios Nektarios church. Pop your head inside on your way out to check out the stunning frescoes.