If there’s one thing Greece is renowned for, it’s the food. Millions of tourists flock every year to Athens to see thousand-year-old ruins and stuff themselves with gyros, kebab, and other spicy, grilled wonders. But there’s more to Greek cuisine than feta salads and pork kebabs. Have you ever tried, for example, a tiropita, or a piece of galaktobouriko or saganaki? (Note: We did a brief examination into the basics of Greek cuisine here). No need to fret about what you’ve been missing; the next time you’re in Athens, stop by one of these five beloved establishments for a taste of many different faces of Greek cooking, from sweets to pies to joy-inducing comfort dishes (WARNING: Salivation ahead!).
- Athinai Bistrot
Makrigianni 3, Monastiraki
You can easily miss this tiny eatery, hiding among cafes and souvenir stores crowding outside the edge of the Acropolis. Recognizable by its green awning shielding outdoor tables with green-wire chairs, lace tablecloths, and oil lamps, Athinai Bistrot exudes Parisian Charm and serves up elegant takes on Greek classics. Serving up home-cooked Greek classics presented with five-star finesse, the Bistrot will serve a dish eaten by generations of Greeks, in the elegance of artistic food arrangements and porcelain plates that will remind you of your grandmother’s china. Favorites include the lamb leg, accompanied by mashed potatoes, with meat so moist it falls right off the bone, and the moussaka (a lasagna-like dish made from layers of dough, béchamel cream, ground meat and eggplant) dressed up in a quiche dish. In seafood, the stars are the grilled octopus, fried shrimp, and seabass. They also have sandwiches, salads, and traditional Greek cheeses and spirits.
Perfect for: A brunch with a special someone after a long morning of sightseeing
Kassaveti 5, Kifisia
This timeless patisserie is one of oldest in Greece, and an establishment for fine sweets and dairy goods. Located in a suburb that was established as a summer destination for the wealthy upper-class of the city’s past, entering Varsos is like stepping back to an era of lost aristocracy. Their chief offerings are the sweets that have become integral to Greek life, from baklava to the French millefeuille. But the stars of the menu are their spanakopita and tiropita, savory phyllo-pies stuffed with spinach and cheese, respectively. Varsos is one of the few remaining establishments that fills their pies with inch-thick fillings, including a quiche-like mix of egg and cheese for the tiropita (the modern, mass-produced version has lost the egg). Sit down at one of their elegant booths for coffee and a piece of their beloved galaktobouriko, a thick phyllo cake filled with cream. And definitely pick up some of those pies for dinner.
Perfect for: A relaxing afternoon coffee among the rich (and walking out with boxes of takeout afterwards)
3. Oraia Ellas
Mitropoleos 59, Monastiraki
Inspired by a legendary nineteenth-century café that became a hub for the intellectuals, poets, and revolutionaries of Athens, Oraia Ellas, located on the top floors of the Center for Greek Tradition, is a sight to behold. Every inch of its walls are filled with folk paintings, etchings, photos and other memorabilia from Greece’s history, from early 20th-newspaper covers to World War II ration cards. Prepare to be enchanted by the carved wooden chairs, flowers on the window sills, and artfully placed bouzoukia (guitar-like Greek folk instruments). Here is the place to experience the art of the pikilia, a group of small appetizers served with alcoholic accompaniment (be sure to try their saganaki, a fried goat’s cheese). Or go all-out Greek and have a blowout meal with a seafood platter of shrimps, mussels, fried squid and more. Oh, and after every meal there’s complementary melon and grapes.
Perfect for: A giant dinner with lots of laughter, drinks, and good company.
Boukourestiou 9 & Panepistimiou, Syntagma
This café-restaurant-patisserie was first founded in 1939, and over the decades was flocked to by generals, politicians, artists and celebrities (including Sophia Loren and Anthony Quinn). And with its mosaiced floors, suede couches, and carefully positioned paintings and sculptures, it’s no less elegant than some of the finest restaurants of London. In 2015, it was revamped for a new generation of patrons, now also boasting a lounge and sushi bar. Enjoy the live classical music and the temporary art exhibit currently on show with a light meal of pasta, meat, or an artful sandwich. Famed for their sweets, be sure to catch the desert trolley wheeling around the cakes of the day, or visit their chocolaterie filled with colorful macarons, cookies, and over forty kinds of chocolate bonbons. There are also many tables outside (graced with flowers and linen table clothes, of course), for sitting down to coffee and complementary bonbons on warm summer nights and watching the city go by.
Perfect for: A luxurious evening bite after the theatre (or hours of shopping).
Karagiorgi Servias 12-14, Syntagma
This tiny café may not look like much on the outside, but this snack-stop in the center of Athens has some of the best pites (pies) in the city. This little wonder boasts over fifty kinds of pie from eight regions of Greece, handmade from the unique recipes of mothers and cooks from all over the Greek mainland and islands. They have all the classics, including three varieties of spanakopita and over ten types tiropita (both as supreme in quality as those at Varsos), and the sweet, cream-filled bougatsa. But here you can also munch on less famous varieties, like the kimadopita (meat pie) and kolokithopita (zucchini pie). This eatery even has an in-house collection of pies made with farro flour, featuring such creations as a “seskoulopita” (chard pie) with wild rice, walnuts and raisins. For less than five euros, you can walk out with a coffee and a slice (or two) of some of the best pie you’ll ever try in your life.
Perfect for: An on-the-go snack as you explore one of Europe’s most fascinating—and delicious—cities.
Stay tuned for more on the delicious side of Athens!