Warning. This article might lead to serious burger cravings.
By Alex Kavdas
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Athenians and burgers are in their honeymoon phase. In the 90s, Greeks mostly considered these American-bred fast-food staples a childrens’ meal. By the 2010s, the hipster tribes had taken over and any downtown bar with a name for itself would serve a decent side burger to keep their urbanite punters happy. In recent years, burgers have gone mainstream to become the holy grail of Athenian food bloggers and amateur backyard master chefs everywhere; earning themselves a permanent fixture on the local taste scene. Not surprising then that during the pandemic, the not-so-humble burger was the undisputed king of home delivery, with local chefs competing in an unspoken rivalry for the best taste and biggest fanbase to offer ever more adventurous and eclectic spins. For those times when only a burger will do, we’ve rounded up the best of the new breed of burger bars in downtown Athens.
What’s the story: Girl meets boy, girl wants burger, they create a 50s American diner together in downtown Athens. That pretty much wraps the tale of how Athenian couple Francesca and Mike opened Cherry Blossom in May 2021, with the goal of giving Athenians a joyful new place to tuck into one of their favourite imported tastes. Set in the buzzing Psirri area, this diner feels like a mid-century time tunnel back to an age when everything was perky and all the edibles handmade. Former Greek Master Chef-ers Spyridoula and Panos have helped create a menu that leans into nostalgic staples such as burgers, mac ‘n’ cheese and milkshakes. What to order: Tune into rock n roll anthems while you tuck into the signature Burgerbull with black pig bacon, dark beer sauce, cheddar, fried onions, mayo truffle and pickles, accompanied by a “$5 Shake” milkshake, a sugar-high combo of vanilla, whipped cream and marshmallows. Burger dodgers can go for their specialty alternative: the short ribs, cooked sous vide for nine hours and cherry glazed in the oven for unbeatable aromas.
What’s the story: It’s only fair to warn you: this place sells out daily! Street food connoisseur Kostis and his pals travel the globe (when the pandemic allows them to) scouting for new inspiration. Hot on the heels of their success founding the Thessaloniki Street Food Festival, in Athens’ groovy little sister up north, they decided the time had come to share their knowledge with the Greek capital. Heavily influenced by Berlin burger culture, this is a product-oriented establishment, light on embellishments and visual concepts with the focus firmly fixed on the main event: burgers. A short walk from the Acropolis Museum, in the fashionable Koukaki neighbourhood, follow the hip hop sounds until you reach the yellow neon lights. Tarantino closes daily at midnight, but we can’t guarantee you won’t be left with just pumpkins and mice by then. What to order: Goes without saying it’s all top-grade Black Angus here. We suggest the eponymous Tarantino Burger with bacon, caramelized onions, pickles, and Tarantino special sauce. If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, plump for the Philly Steak Sandwich in pretzel bread. The vegetarian burger options are terrific too. Peruse the drinks fridge: among the microbrewery beer range you’ll find novel soft drinks from Hamburg.
What’s the story: Have you ever managed to eat a burger with one hand without making a mess? The team behind Smash’n Bun attest that their burgers are designed for exactly this. Fine dining chef Michalis Nourloglou joined forces with road-tested restaurateurs Giorgos Melissaris and Giannis Morakis to introduce their own version of the 70s American smash burger to Athenians. The trio spent six months perfecting their menu; opening in March 2021 in Athens’ upscale quarter of Kolonaki. S’nB serves only Greek grass-fed meat, 40 days dry aged, and local bio produce. What’s their secret? Adding only salt to their minced meat spheres, then pressing them firmly on the grill until they’re just half a centimetre thick. The corners are slightly overcooked; the middle remains full of juices. Tucked inside a handmade potato puree brioche bun; you’ll be an instant convert. What to order: Keep it simple with a Teddy's Classic with bio cheddar, pickles and snb* sauce (they’re not telling). Or go jazzy with a Moldo (creamed mushrooms, bio cheddar and roasted garlic mayo). Their Wagyu Dogs fly out the door (wagyu sausage, truffle mayo, mushroom jam, cheddar sauce and crispy onion). If chicken is your thing, wrap your hands around a perfectly crisped Korean Bio Fried Chicken sandwich.
What’s the story: Want to try a local legend? One of Athens’ first burger-preneurs (they opened back in 2011), the cultish popularity of Juicy Grill convinced legions of instant-gratification Athenians to make the trek to the northern area of Holargos and queue for hours for a table. Then the news got out that a second one would open in the Athens center in the summer of 2021. Initially delivery only, this downtown burger temple now accepts sit-downs. The Athens branch is a collab between Juicy founder Dimos Kouvarakis and lauded restaurateur Lelos Georgopoulos (the name behind some of the city’s hottest cocktail bars, Clumsies and Vermuteria Odori). The menu remains faithful to the original with a few twists that fly better with the downtown crowd. The meat is always medium-rare and super juicy, with unexpected ingredient combinations served inside a brioche bun or bagel. What to order: These days, the Juicy menu runs to around 30 different options so prepare for some serious indecision. The go-to classic is the spicy Bill Murray: a cheddar stuffed beef burger with chipotle aioli mayo. Their sweet potato fries are the crunchiest in town and their coleslaw side, big enough to feed a small army.
What’s the story: The delicious smash burger that was previously only scored at Athenian festivals and private soirees has finally found a more permanent base. Greek-Lebanese chef Fahd Hassan Kassem, known for his out of the box thinking, teamed up with Athens’ urban staple s.i.x. dogs, to debut the brand for wider public consumption. The chef’s burgers (suitably named “guerilla”) were a local secret. Now, in the newly-opened hipster’s heaven Dave Red Hotel, just off Omonia Square, the tightly-kept guerilla formula has been revealed and it’s unexpectedly simple. Order in one of 3 sizes (single, double or triple) and you score an extra patty from a different cut of cow with every upgrade (starting from Greek calf, then working up to flank steak and grade A rib-eye). They repeat the trick with three vegan meat alternatives (mushroom, onion, jackfruit). What to order: Make sure you order a side of fries, sprinkled with nori and mushroom powder and lime salt - they will blow your mind. All signature cocktails on the list were named after streets around the area; get a Xouthou—with gin, mastiha liqueur, elderflower, roasted pistachios cordial and ginger—at one of the outside tables on the sidewalk and literally taste the city!