Greek food has a mix of influences, none more so than the Ottoman Empire rule, which infiltrated not only the culture but Greek gastronomy, too; from coffee to Middle Eastern dishes from hummus (not a Greek dish, as many assume) to falafel and desserts such as baklava — filo dough and nuts drizzled in honey.
As a seafaring nation, you can expect fish to be served around the country and capital, from Michelin-trained chefs to small family tavernas. In recent times Greece has embraced not only the traditional street foods such as souvlaki and gyros, but also its own cuisine with an international twist, and restaurants are increasingly catering to the growing vegetarian and vegan crowds.
Here, I aim to give you a flavor of my favorite places to frequent in Athens with my favorite dishes there to whet your appetite.
Tzitzikas Ki O Mermigas
Recommended Dish: Chicken Mastihato
This is a small chain of roughly a half dozen Greek restaurants around the capital. The name means The Ant and the Cicada — taken from Aesop’s fable of the same name in which the ant worked hard over the summer months collecting food to store for the winter whilst the cicada relaxed, only for the ant to benefit from his hard work in the winter.
As the restaurant claims, “it’s a place where inspiration (cicada) meets labour (ant).”
The location I recommend is near central Syntagma Square, which is full of tourists and locals alike, so it’s best to book ahead. The dishes are old Greek style with interpretations that use regional ingredients — none more so than the Chicken Mastihato — my favorite dish, which I recommend enjoying with Tzitzikas Salad and a shot of Raki.
Chicken pieces are served on a pastry nest, and the cream sauce contains mastica — a nut plant resin indigenous to the Greek island of Chios. Together with the Tzitzikas Salad, which has 10 fresh vegetables and regional anthotiro and manouri cheeses, dining at Tzitzikas Ki O Mermigas is an eclectic Greek experience, not only for its food but its decor, which emulates traditional 1950s Greek stores and kitchens, giving it a real homey feel.
Recommended Dish: Souvlaki
Souvlaki is possibly the staple dish for any Greek, just as hamburgers are equated with the U.S. It’s a healthy fast food and definitely one for the meat lovers; skewered cubes of grilled pork or lamb are served with tomato, onion, parsley, the famous garlicky Greek dip tzatziki (made with Greek yogurt and cucumber) and French fries deep-fried in olive oil and wrapped in thick pita bread.
Grab one on the go as you walk around sightseeing. It’s best to avoid the touristy overpriced places in the Monastiraki neighborhood near the Acropolis, but Kostas in Agias Irinis Square, just a little further up from Monastiraki, serves what locals and workers in the area consider the best, the proof being that it’s a family-run business that’s been in operation since the 1950s, and they make their own tzatziki sauce. Be prepared to wait in line outside. It’s a small place with no seating, and part of the experience is buying your souvlaki and eating it as you watch the day go by in the square, licking the delicious juices and dip off your fingers.
Recommended Dishes: Falafel And Middle Eastern Fast Food
Although not technically Greek, Falafellas is a popular small hole-in-the-wall take out spot where locals and tourists alike buy falafel, which is similar to souvlaki but is chickpea rather than meat based. Take out the fries and instead add tomato, lettuce, cucumber, eggplant, and either tzatziki or plain yogurt. Falafellas serves excellent street food. You may want another falafel to go. Sit in the busy pedestrianized thoroughfare to watch the world go by.
Note: Be prepared to wait in line outside as Falafellas is a popular spot — the wait is worth it, though.
Recommended Dish: Loukoumades And Greek Yogurt With Honey
Now it’s time to explore some of the dessert options around the capital.
Greek yogurt is made from sheep’s and not cow’s milk. Since ancient times, it’s been considered synonymous with longevity and health because it has more protein and its acidic PH level is safer than that of cow’s milk.
Aside from Greek yogurt being hugely popular, loukoumades are small yeast puffs (similar to donuts) deep-fried until golden brown, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon. They’re found in Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Persia. In Greece, they’re thought to be the oldest recorded dessert, traced back to the first Olympic Games of 776 B.C., during which deep-fried dough balls covered in honey were served to the winners as “honey tokens.”
Founded in 1931 in the heart of Athens, Stani is one of the capital’s oldest dairy patisseries. You can come and enjoy their famed Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and walnuts, the loukoumades made on the premises, fresh rice puddings, and a selection of cakes.
It’s a small place, so pop inside and choose what you want — it’s even worth taking a picture of their products, then sit out on one of their tables on the pedestrianized street to enjoy your dessert choice, accompanied with a cup of Greek coffee if you wish.
Nice N Easy
Recommended Dish: Eggs Benedict
Nice n Easy is a pleasure to add as a recommendation and one of my favorites, not least because it’s an organic bistro and their ethos of sourcing free-range local produce makes me feel that I am really eating fresh.
The organic farm-to-table menu ranges from meat dishes such as buffalo tenderloin tartare with black truffle and cured egg yolk served with thick handmade fries to vegan dishes such as mushroom pasta with winter herbs. An egg dish, such as organic eggs Benedict or the Kagianas Fitness — egg whites, tomatoes, avocado, and Philadelphia cream cheese — is a must if you’re just wanting a snack. For the health conscious, caloric information for all dishes is provided on the menu.
As well as a restaurant on Mykonos, Nice n Easy’s central Athens location near Parliament Square makes for a good place to have lunch after a morning of sightseeing. Add a glass of crisp white, rose, or red wine or an organic tea or coffee, and you have the ideal gastronomy in the ideal location.
Recommended Dish: Avocado’s Burger
I’m not vegetarian or vegan, but even so, this has to be one of my favorite restaurants in the capital. The couple who started the restaurant initially opened a pilates and yoga studio across the road, and Avocado opened in the spring of 2011. Travelers and locals alike frequent it often, enjoying the range of local, seasonal, and organic produce. Choose from gluten-free dishes, too. The menu is eclectic and ranges from dishes such as hummus and avocado dip with gluten-free pita to fettuccine pasta with a simple homemade basil and pine nut pesto cream to burgers such as Avocado’s Burger — made from chickpeas and peanuts and layered with avocado, sweet potato, and various sauces. The burger is served with homemade tomato sauce and sweet potato chips. This one is my favorite, and a tip: Order this with no bun — it’s too thick to even consider eating with one!
Round off with homemade carrot cake and treat yourself to a smoothie such as pineapple and beetroot. It’s safe to say you’ll come away full but knowing you’ve eaten healthily.
Whether you’re a meat or fish lover, or someone with specific gastronomy needs, you’re sure to find anything you want in Athens. Greek cuisine encompasses a wide variety of healthy choices — it’s all in the Mediterranean ingredients and olive oil. You’ll be left wanting to bring back recipes.
Cerdo Negro 1985
Recommended Dish: Beetroot And Carob Winter Vegetable Salad
Let’s mix up our Mediterranean cuisine now. In the trendy Gazi–industrial district of Athens, in a hacienda-style one-story house you’ll find Cerdo Negro 1985, a fusion of Greek and Spanish cuisine.
Recommended in the 2021 Michelin Guide, Cerdo Negro 1985 is the result of a dining dream by two brothers George and Constantine Alexopoulos. Being of Greek origin and trained in London and Barcelona alongside Michelin-starred chefs has helped create a unique menu in this equally unique venue.
Black pig (Iberico Pork) features heavily on the menu with dishes such as peppered corn ribs–smoked and deep fried. You’ll even find the black pig decor around this cute place as ceramic heads are mounted on the walls.
Accompany your dish with a full bodied red wine and you’re set for the evening. Oh, and be sure to have their homemade bread with homemade herb butter–shaped like a pig, of course. You’ll want to snack on it all evening.
Recommended Dish: Any Dish Of The Day (Especially Their Smoothies)
This cafe/bar and restaurant in a beautiful neo-classical building a stone’s throw away from the Acropolis has the added benefit of knowing you’re supporting a good cause.
Shedia is a social innovation hub that helps those who are homeless or suffering extreme poverty get back on their feet. There are a number of ways this happens — predominantly by the creation and sale of their street paper Sheida, which the people experiencing homelessness sell (usually around Metro stations and are distinguishable by their Sheida jackets) and keep a percentage of the proceeds. Sheida Cafe also creates and sells upcycled products made at their workshop above the restaurant.
The restaurant itself offers a variety of delicious dishes, the menu designed by Greece’s top Michelin star chef, Lefteris Lazarou. Lazarou and his associate trained Sheida Cafe’s cooks, again people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and insisted they needed no experience but a willingness to learn a new skill.
New dishes are added seasonally, individual dietary requirements are catered to, and in keeping in line with the ethos of the company, the menu is affordable to all. As you sightsee around the capital, you can even drop by to fill up your water bottle for free.
Oinoscent Wine Bar
Recommended Wine And Dish: Malagouzia White Wine, Accompanied With Sea Bass Crudo Or Cheese Selections
Visiting this wine bar with equally good food to accompany your choice of wines from as far away as Uruguay to Germany, Spain, Italy, and, of course, Greece should be on your Athens itinerary.
Oinoscent is the first wine bar to open in Athens — in 2008 during the backdrop of the financial crisis. It has flourished ever since, moving to a new premises in 2012 and adding a wide selection of cuisine options to complement the wines from 2017.In addition to a selection of smaller dishes to accompany any wines tasted, the menu has larger main dishes, such as gnocchi with wild mushrooms or flank steak.
Recommended Dish: Mushroom Tart Or A Dish From The Rice And Noodles Selection
It’s time to head out of the city center now. A mere 20–25 minutes away by taxi brings you to the Kastella neighborhood, a distinguished place sitting on a hill above Piraeus’ smaller sister — the Marina of Mikrolimano, famed for its laid-back vibe and many coffee shops that line the promenade.
The neighborhood boasts commanding views out across the sea to the nearby Saronic islands, plus views across to the mountains that surround the capital; Immitos and Penteli. It’s here you’ll find The Alex — a 34-room boutique hotel with a popular rooftop bar, restaurant, and bistro, the Nest.
The Nest has 360-degree views, and you can see as far as the Acropolis. Open to non-guests, it has a wide selection of Greek cuisine with an international twist, plus noodle and rice dishes. Brunch is served from 12–5 p.m. where you can choose from a selection of light snacks — such as avocado salad, scrambled eggs, or an omelet —followed by chocolate or lemon pie. You won’t go hungry!
Be sure to come to the Kastella neighborhood to explore, or even stay for one night before heading off to your Greek island destination.
Tip: Kastella and The Alex, where the Nest is situated, are nestled atop a hill overlooking the marina, so the area is very steep. But if you’re coming from the center of Athens, a taxi can bring you to the door and an elevator takes you to the top floor.
One thing’s for sure: There’s more to Greek food than the famed moussaka! But you may still want a taste of the eggplant-based dish during your time in Athens.