Symi is a small island just a short hop away from the large touristy Greek island of Rhodes. Most visitors arrive at Symi as part of a day excursion from Rhodes, but the smaller island is beautiful in its own right and deserves individual attention. Arriving at Symi by boat, you’re met by natural sponge sellers on the harbor. Wandering the traditional streets, you’ll soon understand this is a place where the old ways remain and where old Greece still blossoms.
The food scene here is focused on being local. Locals eat out all the time and the chefs use local produce, knowing where to find the best seafood and where the best herbs are grown. Seafood is the order of the day, but the menus are varied and offer a wide choice for such a small island. It’s hard to choose, but here are my six favorite restaurants on the Island of Symi in Greece.
1. Odyssia Restaurant
A family-owned restaurant right by the sea, Odyssia likes to keep things personal, intimate, and welcoming. The family atmosphere is apparent as soon as you enter this cute little restaurant, and the waiting staff is very attentive. They’re happy to advise you on the menu and explain the dishes, but whatever you order is fantastic here. Its location is perfect, at the edge of the water, so you can enjoy your meal while the waves gently lap the shore right in front of you. They also have rooms to rent upstairs, which make for a lovely stay by the sea. If you enjoyed your meal so much that you want to keep the party going, you can stay over.
What To Order At Odyssia Restaurant
The Odyssia salad with walnuts is a starter or side dish that’s particular to this restaurant, so you won’t find it anywhere else. The pasta with shrimp is a favorite and you’ll see many visitors ordering this. It is as good as its reputation tells you it is; you have to eat it at least once at this restaurant. They make a homemade orange pie, which is delightful. And, on our visit, it was complimentary at the end of the meal.
2. The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden is a tucked-away restaurant on the hill with the cutest secret garden you’ll find on the island. It’s like a small courtyard with trees, ferns, and trailing plants that wind their way around the fittings, and it feels secluded as if you’ve stumbled upon a hidden patio. It’s beautifully designed and run by a couple, a Belgian lady and her Greek husband. There is quite a climb up the steps of the hillside to get to this restaurant, but you’re rewarded with incredible views, a secluded atmosphere, and fantastic food.
What To Order At The Secret Garden
This is a traditional meze-style menu, so you have lots of choices of small plates to try. The lamb lemonata is a favorite, but the baked feta is also incredible. For your meze, also don’t miss the meatballs, Symi shrimp, and the pork. There’s a really nice touch here of bringing more bread out at the end of the meal to mop up any sauce you have left on your plate. You certainly won’t leave here hungry.
3. Taverna Haris
With a lovely setting by the harbor, Taverna Haris is a popular restaurant with tourists as it’s in an ideal location and has a lot of outdoor seating to cater to lots of people. This is another family-owned restaurant and the owners and staff are very proud of their success. They’re welcoming and friendly and love to chat! The food does speak for itself though, and the portions are pretty big compared to other restaurants. It’s predominantly a seafood restaurant, but there are also other dishes on the menu.
What To Order At Taverna Haris
The grilled octopus is very popular and it really is one of the best octopus dishes you’ll taste. But the mussels in wine also deserve a mention, as they are so beautifully cooked. For something a little different, try the beetroot and shrimp risotto. If you’re unsure about beetroot in a risotto, trust me, it really does work. The simple chocolate cake is the best dessert on the menu — rich and delicious.
4. Zoe’s Taverna
Don’t be put off by its location high up on the hill, Zoe’s Taverna is well worth the walk if you can make it. But if you can’t, the Symi bus or a friendly taxi will take you. You’ll be rewarded by a family-run restaurant fronted by Zoe, her nephew and chef, and incredible views out over the bay. It’s probably one of the most authentic Greek tavernas you’ll find on Symi, with homemade dishes using ingredients straight from the family’s farm. Zoe is rightfully proud of her restaurant and she loves talking with guests.
What To Order At Zoe’s Taverna
The signature dish here is the hare stifado, or hare stew. You’re unlikely to find this on any other menu on Symi and it’s a local dish not often made for tourists. For meze, try the feta-stuffed peppers, courgette balls, and fishcakes. The simple hummus with bread is a great starter or side dish with the meze. The biggest surprise here is how many vegetarian and vegan dishes are on the menu. For such a traditional taverna, Zoe goes out of her way to cater to everyone.
Pro Tip: There are only two bus routes on Symi — that’s how small the island is! To get to Zoe’s Taverna, you need to take the bus going to Chorio. The bus driver can alert you when you’re there. Or, take a taxi and just ask for Zoe’s Taverna; everyone on the island knows this restaurant.
Housed in a beautiful old stone building, Pantelis has a great location right by the harbor. It’s always busy, perhaps because it’s the first port of call for those stepping off small cruise ships and arriving for the day from Rhodes. It’s very popular, so you do need to book to ensure you get a table. Run by two brothers, one being the chef and the other front of house, they have created a restaurant that perfectly strides the line between modern and traditional: The dishes are authentic, but the presentation is contemporary. It’s a little more expensive than other tavernas on the island, but it’s worth it for beautifully prepared and presented food, and the restaurant is building a great reputation for itself.
What To Order At Pantelis
The great thing about this restaurant, compared to a lot of the tavernas on the island, is the wine list. They still serve Greek wines, as most restaurants here do, but they have selected some superior wines that top the usual Greek house wine. I’d recommend, for a simple classic dinner, the seafood spaghetti and a glass or two of the Gai’a Thalassitis, a lovely white wine from Santorini.
Pro Tip: They do take walk-ins at Pantelis and you can get a table without a booking sometimes. However, if you’re visiting on a weekend, it’s likely to be full. Even if you go during the week, it’s better to book ahead to reserve a table just to be sure.
6. Taverna O Meraklis
The location of Taverna O Meraklis on a busy street is a bit of a shame, and it doesn’t get the attention it perhaps deserves because of this. It’s a small taverna with seating outside on the pavement, traffic, and lots of people walking by, which puts some people off eating here. However, if you can look past the location and focus on the food, you’ll find a very authentic Greek taverna with generous portions and simple, well-cooked food. It’s a block back from the harbor, so it doesn’t have views of the sea, but it does have a family feel to it with good traditional Greek dishes. You’re more likely to be eating with locals than tourists here — which is always a testament to how good the food is — and it’s very reasonably priced.
What To Order At Taverna O Meraklis
What you won’t get at Meraklis are fancy dishes presented in a fancy way. What you will get is very traditional Greek food that locals love. The Symian pastichio is a local dish that Symians have a lot of pride in. It’s pasta with minced meat cooked in a tomato sauce, covered in cheese, and baked in the oven. If that sounds like spaghetti bolognese, it’s more like a Greek-style casserole than an Italian pasta dish. Order a Mythos beer to go with it and you have an authentic local Symian experience.