7 Best Traditional Greek Dishes and Where to Find Them in Athens
Should we say that Athens is just about the busy lifestyle, the vivid nightlife, the picturesque neighborhoods or the rich cultural scene, we would be definitely lying to ourselves. Just as any other place you get to visit, Athens is the city that has much more to offer, especially when it comes to taste the “local stuff”.
Based on the Mediterranean cooking style and eating habits, Greek cuisine works miracles on your palate, with its rich-flavored dishes, the tasteful mezedes and the mouthwatering desserts that perfectly introduce you to the unique Greek culinary experience that you may find when in Athens. In the city that brings together various and promiscuous, yet ideally combined, elements, tasting the local cuisine is considered a definite ‘must do’ (and ‘must take back with you’, for that matter) you shouldn’t leave out of your meticulous holiday planning.
This is why we put our minds together and came up with the 7 best traditional Greek dishes that you should certainly try when in Athens. To make sure that you leave nothing to chance, we also found the best places where you can eat them, which guarantee good quality, fresh ingredients and great ambiance.
1. Grilled meat – Souvlaki
When it comes to meat, everyone thinks is a specialist. However, when it comes to good, quality, tender grilled meat, then you should look no further: Greeks are the masters, or specialists. You may call them whatever you want, but Greeks have absolutely mastered the way to cooking and grilling meat. You could try different places all around Athens, but few are the places you can taste perfectly grilled meat, the authentic souvlaki, and many other meat variations from pork, chicken or lamb (like kontosouvli, cooked on a skewer and can also be made with lamb or chicken; paidakia, which is the Greek word for chops, etc.)
If you find yourselves wandering near Syntagma square, or Monastiraki, especially near lunch time, when hunger has already made you dizzy and craving for something not to simply trick your hunger, then head straight to Kolokotroni street. A 10- to 15-minute walk will lead you to the best place for trying the greatest grilled meat in the city. Its name? To Paradosiako, the grill restaurant located in the city center that knows what it takes to offer best quality and at a reasonable price.
Where: 59, Kolokotroni street, Athens (near Syntagma and Monastiraki Metro station)
2. Fresh fish and seafood
A visit in Athens, and generally in Greece, especially in summer, means that fresh fish should be, at least once, on your dining table. Otherwise, your trip here would have been all for nothing. Fish and seafood is the ‘trademark’ of the Greek cuisine and it comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, brought to you from the depths of the Mediterranean, Aegean and Ionian Sea. Whether seared, simmered or grilled, it brings the taste of the sea straight to your plate.
There are many places to try well-prepared fish and seafood, cooked in a way and combined with all the necessary ingredients that brings out all the flavors: locally extracted virgin olive oil with lemon juice (also known as ladolemono, which goes perfectly with your grilled fish), oregano and thyme.
And we’ve got the perfect place for you to find a great variety of fish and seafood, so fresh that you’d think that they came straight from the sea on the grill and then to your table. Pay a visit to Mikres Kyklades, open the menu and choose from the endless options. If not sure what to take, don’t worry, we’re here for you: try the grilled sea bream, with every bite melting in your mouth, or, if you are more of a seafood person, then we suggest the seafood risotto. Exceptional quality that you won’t regret.
Where: 56, Pantazi street, Ilioupoli (near Agios Dimitrios Metro station)
3. Kolokythokeftedes (courgette balls)
Fried in olive oil, with feta cheese and, of course, tasty. This is the best dish prepared in taverns and restaurants for starters, or mezedes, that speaks volumes about the Greek cuisine. Courgette (a.k.a. zucchini), flour, a couple of eggs, feta cheese, a little bit of salt and pepper is all it takes to prepare these tasteful patties that are ideally accompanied with tzatziki, making the best combination to serve with a glass of ouzo or tsipouro.
Kolokythokeftedes are the starter served mainly in summer, since this is the season that courgettes grow, and can be found on every table with other mezedes to eat in between sips of ouzo or tsipouro, even wine. It is a dish that can be found in every location, but I think that the best kolokythokeftedes I’ve ever tasted were in ASTER in Kato Petralona. Get there, find a place to sit and order those kolokythokeftedes.
Where: 48, Troon street (near Kato Petralona Train station)
Interested in discovering the authentic Greek cuisine?
When speaking of Greece, a few things automatically pop up in your mind; one of them is the word “moussaka”. Whoever has visited Greece and didn’t try moussaka has found the needed reason to get back to Greece, like, now. Sautéed sliced aubergines and potatoes (sometimes also courgette), tomato sauce, minced beef, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, cinnamon, topped with béchamel sauce and grated cheese are the ingredients that make this dish a cornucopia of flavors, brought together in the oven, with what comes out reminding nothing of each ingredient.
Now that you can’t stop thinking about it and your mouth is watering like never before, let me tell you where you’ll find the best piece of moussaka: at Lionti, the traditional Greek restaurant next to the Acropolis Museum, you can taste this flavorful combination and without exceeding your budget. Prepared in that morning for all its clients with fresh and quality products you get the best option and right at the heart of Athens.
Where: 19-21, Makrigianni street (opposite Acropolis Metro station)
Now, this is what we’re talking about! Dolmades are the real deal for those who want to try something not that commonly picked, even by the locals, especially when this is a dish mainly cooked best by our mothers. It’s not that easy to find the perfect homemade-like dolmades in some restaurant of tavern.
That is, however, until you set foot in Kriti, the place where you can taste really good options for every taste, reminding you of ‘home’. This is where you get the chance to find homemade dolmades that you can pair with other mezedes or main dishes, which have their origins in the Cretan culture and cuisine, along with some good raki or home wine. The place is right at the city center, just a few meters from Omonoia square. All you have to do to get there is to hop on the train and let your hunger lead the way.
Where: 5, Veranzerou street, Athens (near Omonoia Metro and Train station)
6. Just every kind of pies (a.k.a. pites)
The less-known, yet most delicious thing found in the Greek cuisine are its pies, or pites. We grew up eating these tasteful stuffed savory pies and we can’t stop eating them even as adults. Whether stuffed with spinach (spanakopita), feta cheese (tyropita), chicken (kotopita) or any other ingredient you can think of, you can find it in every bakery in the morning as a breakfast or mid-morning snack option or at some special places that have made pita-making a true art.
Such a place is Pie Works. Without doubt, this is the place that you can visit throughout the day and check the freshly baked pies and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to witness live the preparation procedure, once the baking dish is already empty and more has to be made. Check the menu, pay attention to the detail and try the crunchiest and tastiest crust you will ever taste.
Where: 16A, Amerikis street, Athens (near Syntagma Metro station)
Our list would be incomplete, if we didn’t include a dessert for those of you with a sweet tooth. Baklavas is one of the most famous desserts with syrup and a ‘must eat’ when in Greece. It could be the walnuts, the uncountable layers of crispy baked dough, the cinnamon or the syrup, you have to try it. And we’ve got the right place to try a delicious piece: Serbetia at Psyrri. The place offers baklava, and many other traditional or modern sweets, with or without ice cream that they produce themselves. Trust me and put it in your to-visit list.
Where: 3, Aischilou street, Athens (near Monastiraki Metro station)
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What is your favorite Greek dish and where did you try it? Let us know in the comments section below!
Words: Spyridon Balesias
*Disclaimer: these are the personal views of the author; neither do they represent the views of Truevoyagers nor do they aim to advertise and promote the suggested places.