Athens foodie guide: where locals eat and drink
From bougatsa with cinnamon sugar and the locals' favourite souvlaki, to aromatic Greek wines by the glass, try all these and more in the Greek capital with the help of our local guide
Looking for restaurants in Athens? Want to know where to eat in the Greek capital? Travel writer Aoife O’Riordain shares her insider tips for the best restaurants in Athens, along with where to find the best Greek food, gyros and Greek wines.
olive's top 10 must-visits for foodies in Athens
Hoocut – for street food
Souvlaki – marinated meat grilled on skewers, sometimes served in pitta bread – is the fast food of choice for most Greeks. Around since the 1950s, O Kostas is one of the best places to try it in Athens (join the queue at this hole-in-the-wall for a truly authentic gyros experience; there’s no website but you’ll find it at Pentelis 5, near Syntagma Square). Or, for an updated (albeit smaller) version, make your way to Hoocut (“butcher’s cut”), where a group of enterprising young chefs has put an artisanal spin on the dish, using carefully sourced pork, chicken, lamb and beef and serving a vegetarian version, too.
Café Avissinia – for heritage dishes
Home to a famous flea market and several scenic (if tourist-heavy) ancient landmarks, the Monastiraki neighbourhood is a must-visit. Here, Café Avissinia’s artful mish-mash of blowsy wallpaper, marble-topped tables, antiques and picture-strung walls proves the perfect backdrop to its homely mix of traditional bistro-style cooking. In true Greek style, it’s a place to casually pop in to at any time of day, with a menu that covers the whole country but is marginally skewed towards Macedonian cuisine: try the stuffed sour cabbage with pork, or cheese-filled baked potatoes.
ERGON House – for bed and breakfast
At the centre of ERGON House’s double-height agora (gathering place) there’s a silvery, 200-year-old olive tree. It’s just one of the highlights at Athens’ latest hotspot, a hotel, restaurant and market. At breakfast you can sample traditional sweet or savoury pies called bougatsa, while the all-day dining menu includes Greek meze, pasta, fish and meat. There are also cookery classes on offer and, if hotel guests want to cook what they buy at the market – which sells everything from local fish to herbs (ERGON’s owners also run a string of delis) – there are communal kitchens available.
Paleo – for interesting Greek wines
Away from the city centre, in a repurposed warehouse a couple of streets behind the main ferry terminal in Piraeus, is the Paleo wine bar. Open evenings-only, there’s an extensive and interesting wine list (glasses start from €5), with most bottles hailing from Greece and Italy, plus a sprinkling of other European destinations. Make your choice then order cheese, cold cuts and exemplary renditions of Italian staples such as osso buco, caponata and vitello tonnato to go with it. If you’re there in balmy weather, sit outside on the cobbles, enjoying the warmth.
Papadakis Restaurant – for Greek island flavours
Papadakis Restaurant sits on a residential street corner, on the lower slopes of Mount Lycabettus in Kolonaki. It’s run by well-known chef, Argiro Barbarigou, and serves some of the city’s best fish, as well as inventive, modern twists on Greek and Italian classics such as giouvetsi made with orzo pasta, langoustines, prawns and tomato or bougatsa with cinnamon sugar. Barbarigou hails from Paros, so ingredients from the island feature prominently: try cherry tomato salad with Paros caper leaves, xinomizithra cheese, or Paros chickpeas cooked for 15 hours.
Athens Central Market – for foodie souvenirs
Anyone with even a passing interest in Greek food should pay a visit to Athens Central Market. There’s been a market on the site since 1886 and, today, meat, fish and vegetable stalls jostle for space among neat little pyramids of nuts, olives, farm-fresh honey and cheeses. The stalls spill out onto many of the surrounding streets, all of which are a hive of activity. For spice, nut and dried fruit sellers, including the unrivalled Bahar (pick up everything from Greek mountain oregano to Dictamus tea from Crete), head to Evripidou Street.
Seycheles – for modern Greek cooking
The gritty neighbourhood of Metaxourgeio is rapidly gentrifying. On one of its street corners, housed in a historic 19th-century building with tables that spill out onto the pavement and square beyond, is Seycheles, a reimagining of the traditional mezedopoleio (typical Greek restaurant). Packed all day, especially at weekends, it serves dishes rooted in Greece, but sport interesting riffs: think pappardelle with a type of pork confit called kavourmas, or octopus cooked in red wine.
Third Place – for coffee
Like most cities, Athens has been experiencing a boom in coffee culture. And not just traditional Greek coffee. At the vanguard of the trend for cold brews, espressos, lattes and (in the summer months) freddos, is Third Place, housed in a 1960s building right in the thick of it near Syntagma Square. Nearby, in one of Syntagma Square’s small arcades, is Kaya Spirit, another (takeaway) coffee spot to seek out.
Vezene – for new-wave Greek dining
Styling itself as a new-wave Greek bistro (though the interiors are up-scale urban rather than all-out cosy, with sleek metal and wood furniture, industrial lighting and a glass and foliage-strewn extension), Vezene is designed around sharing food with friends. Wood-fired meat dishes (onglet, flat iron steaks) are excellent but most are sourced from heritage herds in the UK and flown in. Instead, choose more sustainable but equally delicious options such as fish steamed in assyrtiko wine with vegetables and chilli, local goat meat served with fricaséed greens or pizza-style pies (courgette with pine nut, truffle and wild garlic).
Afoi Asimakopouloi – for a pastry shop
Opened in 1915 and was operating as a dairy bar until 1950. Today it still uses its own milk and butter to make wonderful creams, scented tsoureki (brioche), galaktompoureko, truffles and eclairs. It also sells some of the best ice cream in town.
Words by Aoife O’Riordain
Photographs by Papadakis Restaurant
More places to eat and drink in Athens
At Alatsi (Vrasida 13, alatsi.gr), Pericles Koskinas brings out the best of his raw ingredients. He’s brilliant with fish and sources ingredients from interesting small producers, such as wild greens from Messinia and eel from Arta. Ask for the Athinaiki salad made with poached golden grouper, dentex (a fish similar to bream), mayonnaise, potato and carrot.
If you are a coffee lover, Taf Coffee (Emmanouil Benaki 7-9, cafetaf.gr), near Omonoia, is the place to head for. Its coffee is purchased directly from certified producers and the baristas are expertly trained.
Close to Syntagma Square, the Wine Booth (Fokionos 12, facebook.com/WineBooth) has a timeless feel, with jazz and swing on the playlist, a cosy atmosphere and over 100 wines to choose from, most of them from Greek producers. Go for a glass of fresh Begleri.
The Gin Joint (Christou Lada 1, theginjoint.gr) is one of the hottest cocktail bars in Athens and with good reason. Its cocktail list offers a range of finessed classics as well as some imaginative signatures. Everything is made in-house, including homemade bitters. The aged negroni is definitely one to try.
On the shelves of Pantopoleion tis Mesogeiakis Diatrofis (Sofokleous 1, 00 30 210 323 4612), you will find over 2,000 items from 200 Greek producers. Look out for extraordinary olive oils, rare condiments and a selection of traditional pastas from across the country.
Kriti (Veranzerou 5, +30 210 382 6998), a taverna specialising in authentic Cretan food, is hidden in an arcade off Kanigos Square. There’s no menu, but typical dishes include traditional apaki (smoked Cretan pork) and pita sfakiani (a fried pastry filled with mizithra cheese). If it’s on the list, a must-try meze is mushrooms with staka, the local butter.
Explore the secret food spots of downtown Athens by joining a group Culinary Walk (culinarybackstreets.com). Lasting around six hours and including all food, the tours typically take in an old dairy bar, a hidden loukoumades joint and the locals’ favourite souvlaki.
Words by Christiana Thomaidi, food editor and consultant who writes for culinarybackstreets.com
Photographs by Johanna Huber/Sime/4corners, Doug Pearson/AWL Images