The Athens Local Food Travel Guide
The cosmopolitan city of Athens is a major attraction for international visitors for so many reasons, not least of which is the cuisine on offer. That goes for the modern as well as the traditional, as the food scene in Athens has undergone a few unexpected changes over the last few years. One positive consequence of the economic crisis in Greece was that Greece opened its kitchen doors to a wider range of international cuisines, and certain traditional foods transformed into more modern versions that went down a treat with locals and visitors alike.
It should be noted that the word gastronomy originated in Greece, so it will probably also come as no surprise that Greeks take food very seriously indeed. In Athens, you will find more delicious Middle Eastern influences than ever before, as well as quality international street foods ranging from Hungarian to Bangladeshi; there has been a welcome resurgence in traditional Greek foods too, so there was never a better time to come on a food tour of Athens!
Here’s what you should know to get the best from your trip:
Best places for traditional Greek and Mediterranean food
Cookoovaya is the place to go if you like the idea of Greek comfort foods in sizeable portions. The place is, in their own words, ‘boisterous’ but that’s half the fun of a meal out in Greece. Their team of 6 renowned Athenian chefs put this place together and the result is delicious food prepared with expertise, passion and experience.
This bustling restaurant (situated off Ermou Street) dishes up classic no-nonsense souvlaki grills (finely chopped pork) and pitas, and although it is technically a ‘no frills’ joint, the food is excellent. Eat traditional kebabs of beef, lamb or pork at indoor or outdoor tables according to your mood. It is also right in the busiest shopping destination in Athens, so you might want to plan a shopping trip for the day you visit.
For a nibble on some wonderful Greek street food, head to Kostas on Plateia Agias Irinis 2. This hole-in-the wall takeaway has been going since 1946, which is saying something about the quality. This is yet another place for sampling traditional juicy souvlaki with homemade tomato sauce, and it is widely considered to be the best in Athens. It comes in a pita that has been toasted to perfection… so that’s one traditional Greek dish ticked off your list in style.
First, let’s introduce you to koulouri, a baked dough ring similar to bagels or German pretzels. Baked with sesame, these delightful breads are among the most popular snacks or breakfast foods in Greece. Koulouri stalls are nothing new in the city; today there are koulouri stalls in abundance, most of which offer a huge selection of fillings.
However, the Oven Sesame franchise (there are currently 2 stores) were the first to extend the traditional range with a unique koulouri shape, so they’re a great place to start. Thanks to these guys, now you can also get all kinds of unusual fillings as well as traditional cheeses and meats.
Keftes and falafels
Although falafels are not traditionally Greek, a takeaway called Falafellas opened its doors and falafels then spread like wildfire. You can try Falafellas out for size, but Greece does have a traditional dish that is similar to falafels, and it’s called keftes/keftedes, so look out for those too. If you decide (like many others in Athens) that you can’t get enough of falafels, don’t worry… falafel joints are dotted all over the city!
Learn how to cook like a Greek!
International food options
For those times when Greek food isn’t on your menu, check out some of the international cuisines available in Athens:
Trattoria is an authentic Italian restaurant, situated in the center of the city. It has a lovely patio and a little garden, so the surroundings are picturesque, and the chef serves up some truly delicious Italian options. Then there’s Nolan, which is perfect for gourmet Greek-Japanese fusion cuisine. Asian foods abound in Athens, so check out the tiny sushi bar Sushimou where you can try Japanese delights ‘omakase’ style, which means the chef chooses for you. The creative chef at Sushimou will be sure to give you a memorable dining experience!
Other international restaurants worth checking out are Pink Flamingo (for bao and dim sum) and Che cocina sudamericana (for delicious South American bites); for more Asian flavors, head for Rouan Thai or East Pearl (Chinese), while Tuk Tuk (Thai) and Fuga are also great.
Interested in trying something new?
Coffee, wine and cocktails
Athens is the city where coffee has to be served up as thick and dark as possible. Greek coffee is prepared in a traditional brass pot over a gas flame, so it’s an experience to have at least once. Where can you find the best coffee in Athens?
Couleur Locale is the place where you can mix with the locals and gaze out upon an amazing view of the Parthenon out on the Acropolis. They serve excellent coffee, but that’s not all; the place is known as one of the best bars in the city thanks to its eclectic cocktail menu, and the pleasant instrumental music in the background will lull you into a state of relaxation… be prepared to stay a while.
Next up is Small 8, a gem of a cafe and one you should keep your eyes peeled for. It’s tucked away in a residential area, but that’s even more a reason to go along. Get an insight into daily Greek suburban life while you sip on your quality Greek coffee in a relaxed atmosphere. As coffee is never going to get old, you might as well put 2 Goulies and 2 Boukies (Dragatsaniou 8, 105 59) on your list too - they serve up truly excellent brews. Noel is also worth a mention, as many would argue that it’s one of the most beautiful cafe in Athens!
For wine, get down to By The Glass, a stylish Greek wine bar that goes all out to give you a great experience. The wine selection is fantastic, and they put on live jazz nights throughout the summer, if you’re lucky enough to be here then. Other events happen all year around, so pop in for a pleasant surprise.
To bulk out a bar crawl, be sure to include The Clumsies, an all-day cocktail bar that has been voted among the best bars in the world (thanks to the people and pouring skills of its two ex-bartender owners).
If you still have time…
Outside the center of the city there are many more places you won’t regret exploring, so be sure to stretch your agenda as far as you can! Here are two more visit-worthy areas for your Athens trip:
This is the place to head if you’re more interested in wandering around, dipping in and out of cafés for coffee, drinks and snacks. Kifisia in the northern suburbs is a treat if you like the idea of bustling shops and a myriad of pleasant cafes and bars. Coffee lovers will have a field day here, and there are one or two places you should stop by if you make the journey; namely Different Beast, which serves delicious brunches after 10:00, and Paramalo for oysters and impressive Greek seafood.
Ten km southwest of Athens you can find Piraeus, one of the biggest ports in the Mediterranean. This ancient port of Athens is the main exit point to the Aegean islands (and elsewhere in Europe) by sea. Piraeus is huge, with countless quays full of ferries, ships and hydrofoils. It’s well worth exploring this bustling place, and it has a lot going on.
If you are interested in the best fish and seafood in Athens, you should make a visit to Papaioannou, which you can find at Akti Koumoundourou 42, Piraeus. If you’re hungry, you won’t need to wait long – these guys are fast on their feet and the dishes are mouthwatering. Diners can pick the type, weight and cooking style of their fish, choosing from shrimp, mussels and crayfish. These are served 'saganaki' style (with tomato sauce and feta). After your meal, feel free to indulge in one of their delicious desserts.
A wander around the general market of Piraeus gives fascinating insights into Greek life and you can try a wide range of foods there too. If you’re on a budget you’ll appreciate the cheap bars and cafes around the periphery and in the back alley behind the market. Don’t miss out on a juicy burger at upmarket fast-food joint Mpar-Mpee-Kiou. The Tsaki-Tsan and chili-infused Velzevul burgers won’t let you down… and as a food lover on tour, nor will Athens - that much is guaranteed!
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About The Author: Cal Bailey runs Mountain Leon - a travel blog he started after two years on backpacking around the world. If you want to learn more about life on the road or his blogging, you can read his latest blog posts!
What is your favorite restaurant in Athens? Let us know in the Comments section below!