Fotis Vallatos, the travel and food editor of Aegean Airlines Blue magazine, knows a thing or two about travelling and eating. Let him take you on a culinary tour of Athens’ sizzling Asian food scene, from long-standing neighbourhood favourites to family-run holes in the wall and new hipster hangouts.
Rouan Thai, in the backstreets of Piraeus, looks pretty basic but it serves the best Thai food in Athens. It’s run by a retired Greek seaman, who met his wife on a trip to Siam. She and their daughter—a graduate of the Royal Thai School of Culinary Arts—work their magic in the kitchen. Go for their famous Pad Thai and Tom Yum, a sour and spicy shrimp soup.
In Piraeus, you can also try superb Indian food at Maharaja Kitchen, tucked away on the first floor of an apartment building. My favourite dishes are the naan with minced meat, the minty kebab, and murgh korma (chicken with cashews and walnuts in a spicy yogurt sauce).
For authentic and affordable Thai street food, make a beeline for Tuk Tuk in Koukaki. The small space is crammed with souvenirs that the owner and chef Babis Askeridis picked up on his travels in South East Asia. Try the Tom Ka Kha soup, made with chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir leaves, and coriander, and the zingy papaya and peanut salad, freshly ground at the table in a mortar and pestle.
For the best falafel in town—crunchy and fragrant with precise frying—follow the locals to hole-in-the-wall Falafel Abu Milad, in the Omonia neighbourhood. Their hummus and chicken skewers are also excellent.
If you’re craving bao buns, hit up Mr. Pugs’ Canteen—a popular street-food hangout in the lively suburb of Halandri. The freshly made buns are as soft and fluffy as can be, and filled with a choice of chicken, pork, or duck.
Back downtown, Vietnamese bar/restaurant Madame Phu Man Chu has won hearts with its kitsch pop decor and menu highlights like the sup ngheu (tomato soup with mussels and dill) and classic bun cha (pork belly and meatballs dipped in a caramelised sauce, with noodles).
Athens doesn’t have that many Japanese restaurants, but Sushimou is the real deal. This counter-only sushi bar has room for just 12 diners, and there’s a two-hour turnaround. Don’t let that put you off: chef Antonis Drakoularakos prepares the best sushi in Athens, maybe even in Greece. The menu is omakase, which basically means that the chef gets to choose what you eat. Expect to pay at least €50 a head and make a reservation at least a week in advance.
It’s a bold move to open a Japanese establishment on the same street as Sushimou, but Aris Vezenes (chef-owner of the meat-heavy bistro Vezené) has the credentials. His latest venture, Birdman, serves "new style" yakitori made with unusual cuts such as wagyu beef or chicken hearts. There’s a fabulous selection of malt whiskeys and sake to pair with your Japanese souvlaki and edamame peperoncino. If you haven't made a reservation, you'll need to go early to nab a stool at the wooden bar, which wouldn’t look out of place in Kyoto. Or make the short stroll up to Shiraki where chef Shinya Shiraki (formerly of the emblematic Furin Kazan) turns out proper, good-quality Japanese food. Order the excellent chirashi sushi (rice bowl with pieces of sashimi) and the best-selling tataki salmon with a wasabi cream.
For gourmet street food in Athens, join the queue at Feyrouz. Mrs. Feyrouz, who hails from Iskenderun in Turkey, makes everything on the menu, which includes fantastic vegan options. Favourites include a veggie lahcmacun with za’atar and walnuts, a boat-shaped pie filled with aubergine, lentils and chickpeas, topped with humus and coriander, lemony tabbouleh, and fragrant pumpkin, beetroot, lentil, and yoghurt soups. This friendly place takes value for money to a whole new level (and you can now add a sweet note to your meal with an authentic Syrian,Turkish or Lebanese pastry or gluten-free baklava at their new patisserie, directly opposite).
Another reliable spot for cheap and tasty lahmacun is Kebab to Rodi, in the off-the-beaten-track, working-class neighbourhood of Sepolia. Locals make the pilgrimage here for exceptional Armenian cuisine, especially the grilled kebabs. Rodi means pomegranate, an ingredient that features heavily on the menu: order the aubergine rolls, a delicious blend of walnuts, tomato and bulgur, wrapped in aubergine and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.
Kypseli has a wide variety of ethnic restaurants that reflect the area’s diverse population. Mikra Asia specialises in Kurdish cuisine. Try the house special, the beyti kebab with pita bread and roasted aubergine. Try the beef gyro and half an hour before you feel ready for dessert, order the kunfefe with buffalo milk ice cream. They have a sister restaurant in Pangrati as well.