Click here to stay updated on the latest COVID-19 measures regarding eat & drink and entertainment spaces.
At first, it may seem as though all Syntagma Square has to offer hungry travellers are fast-food restaurants (KFC, McDonalds, Starbucks, and more). But wander into the side streets below the square and you’ll find all kinds of global cuisine from sushi bars to falafel joints. We’re talking spicy tacos, savoury ramen, and a local hangout disguised as a tourist trap. These are the places where we pop out for a quick lunch break near This is Athens HQ.
Rachel Howard, Editor-in-Chief
In Istanbul, Karaköy Güllüoglu is a legendary sweet shop: locals swarm the counters for the sticky squares of baklava that come in dozens of variations. The Athens outpost is a more modest affair—a tiny shop on a drab stretch of Nikis Street—but the syrupy sweets are an absolute knockout. Go for the bright green pistachio bites; you’ll never be able to stop at one. They also do the best tsoureki (chewy brioche), perfect for dunking into your morning coffee.
Shiraki is an unassuming Japanese joint that’s in a different league to most of the rather mediocre sushi you’ll find in Athens. Cosy and incredibly friendly, it’s perfect for a solo lunch or lunch date for two. Each dish is beautifully plated by the namesake chef, Shinya Shiraki, whose repertoire extends way beyond the freshest, prettiest array of sushi and sashimi. The tori karaage (fried chicken nuggets) is perfectly tender, udon noodle soups come with featherlight tempura, and the eel donburi bowl is unctuously comforting. Finish your meal with two scoops of delicate matcha tea and black sesame ice cream.
Thomas Gravanis, Head of Photography
If I’m in the mood for something spicy, I go to Taqueria Maya, a cosy Mexican spot on Petraki Street. They ask you to pick your spice level on a scale of 0 to 3, so don’t worry if heat isn’t your thing. You can also get margaritas by the pitcher here. I’ve been a gazillion times, and I always order the Cubano sandwich.
So so so is one of the newer spots on the Asian food scene that’s taken off around Syntagma. This tiny hole-in-the-wall specialises in ramen. And it’s the best noodle soup in Athens. Pick one of the handful of tables on the pavement to enjoy your meal and feel the vibes of this very special corner of downtown Athens.
Katherine Whittaker, Contributor
Pretty much everyone in our office goes to Brigante at least once in a while because it’s conveniently located just downstairs. During the week, it’s usually full of well-heeled lawyers, but don’t let that intimidate you. This Italian cafe has really good food (including fresh pasta, pizza, and great salads). Although the coffee is a bit expensive, I’d say it’s worth it—their freddo cappuccinos come in a giant cup, and the hot cappuccinos are a little on the milky side but definitely strong. And if you crave a quick sandwich to go, stop here. Roast beef and gorgonzola on a bun, prosciutto and pesto on a mini baguette—the options are all good.
Maria Kostaki, Senior Editor
Thai food is a relatively new fad for Athens, but each time I go to Mr. Pug I am tempted to hand the server my credit card and tell him to just keep the bao buns coming. When I’m feeling more ladylike and civilised, I head to By the Glass, a wine bar just around the corner, and devour some shrimp wrapped in shredded filo dough. Always with a glass of Ktima Alpha, my favourite Greek rosé.
Amanda Dardanis, Senior Editor
When the falafel cravings hit, I head for Not Just Falafel, a little pearl of a place that does great sit-down-and-eat street food on the corner of Romvis and Perikleous. This pedestrianised pocket just off Ermou Street feels like an urban village. You can score a top-notch falafel wrap with a cold Greek beer for around a fiver. The falafels are made with chickpeas grown in the foothills of Mount Olympus and they fry them on the spot so they’re always crispy and moist. The chef’s falafel sandwich with yoghurt, mint, parsley and pickles is a winner. Pay one euro more and swap out the falafels for kibbe—a delicious Levantine mix of bulgar wheat, onions and spiced ground beef. Whatever you order, ask for a double dose of their kick-ass muhammara sauce made with fresh chilies and tomato.
Paul Pervanas, Content Manager
When in Syntagma Square, head down to Mitropoleos Street and look for a yellow and green sign on your right. That’s Tzitzikas & Mermigas. It may look like a tourist-trap-y kind of restaurant, but that’s definitely not the case. Grab a table—one that’s closer to the entrance rather than the sidewalk, Mitropoleos is a really busy street—and go for any of the specials of the day. Definitely get the keftedakia (fried meatballs), which smell of sweet spearmint, and the kayanas allios: fried eggs on olive oil crispbread from Kythira, covered with homemade tomato sauce, yoghurt and cured meat from Mani.