Everyone knows that the best way to tap a city's true beat is to go where the locals go—and that goes double for restaurants and bars. But in a city like Athens, where the choices are seemingly endless, this can be a bit of a challenge. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of insider secrets to help you discover authentic eating experiences that you won’t get from a guide book. Scroll on to find out where Athenians snack on souvlaki, eat pork chops and listen to live music.
Let’s get straight to the point. Souvlaki. Choosing your souvlaki can be overwhelming, as there’s a joint on practically every corner that sells meat on a stick or wrapped in pita bread. Ignore all the online reviews and tourist touts around Monastiraki Square—and do as the locals do. Head to Achilleas where traditional, handmade souvlaki has been sizzling on hot coals since the 1980s. It’s the real deal.
Every Athenian neighbourhood has its share of traditional tavernas. But some are so secret, even the locals don’t know about them. Like this place in the back of a convenience store in Psirri; it’s so secret it barely has a name (look for the sign “Anapsiktirio”). Behind a curtain, two siblings, Yiorgos and Ritsa, cook up delicious Greek dishes on a daily basis. The choices are limited, but the tastes are unforgettable and the low prices are almost unbelievable. Try the chicken casserole or the spaghetti Bolognese.
If you’re looking to taste regional Greek cuisine, the Cretan food at Mitos in Kallithea is a must. The place is actually a traditional kafenio (old-school café), but also serves authentic mezedes (appetizers to share), all made with produce from the island of Crete. Try the lamb meatballs and the snails with xinohondro (a typical Cretan grain made of sun-dried wheat with sour milk). Follow the local patrons’ lead and wash down your meal with Crete’s signature drink, raki, a clear (and strong) spirit similar to grappa.
In Tavros, you’ll find the best value-for-money seafood restaurant in Athens. If the weather allows, grab a table outside at Moschos—the surroundings will make you feel like you’ve travelled onto the set of a period movie. The menu covers all fishy bases, from calamari to grilled sardines to crispy fried shrimp and whole grilled bream, served with all the necessary accompaniments like hand-cut chips and wilted, lemony greens.
Looking for the largest pork chop in Athens? We know where to find it. Moderni Kairi (meaning ‘modern times’) is hidden away on a side-street off Panormou Street in Ambelokipi. There’s an air of the classic kafenio here, but it’s all about the grilled meat. Order your chop with a seasonal salad and a cold beer. Cheap and cheerful Greek food at its finest, with plenty of local colour.
To Koutouki tou Thoma
After 40 years in business, Thomas only just put up a sign outside his little taverna a few months ago. Born in 1937, in Chania, Crete, Thomas has been cooking since he was a boy. His eponymous taverna is on the ground floor of an unassuming apartment building from 1925. Stepping inside is like walking into your Greek uncle’s home. Thomas greets you as come in, as does Manos, his younger brother. They will lead you into the kitchen and start lifting the lids on the pots and pans, to show you what’s cooking. Manos does most of the cooking these days. Some of his staple dishes are gigantes (‘giant’ beans baked in tomato sauce), fava (yellow split peas), soutzoukakia (cumin-flavoured meatballs in an aromatic tomato sauce), and tas kebab (lamb or beed stew). As you dine, Thomas will regale with tales of how he cooked his first omelette at the age of six.
If you want to see what a true Athenian hangout looks and feels like, head to Kokkini Klosti (red string). Locals gather at the bar night after night to drink and socialise. Cosy and intimate, it’s a place where you can often hear skillful musicians play traditional Greek songs. You never know when this may happen, as nights out in Athens are all about spontaneity—but suddenly, guitars appear and you notice that renowned Greek singer Maria Farantouri and her friends are sitting at a table next to you, only because she starts to sing.