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Athens Restaurant Reviews
Doesn't anybody eat home anymore? When you're on vacation, travelers don't have much choice in the matter, but these days—even in the throes of the current economic crisis—Athenians are going out to restaurants in record numbers. And it's easy for visitors to the capitol to become a part of the clatter, chatter, and song, especially at the city's neighborhood tavernas.
These Athenian landmarks were famous for their wicker chairs that inevitably pinched your bottom, checkered tablecloths covered with butcher paper, wobbly tables that needed coins under one leg, and wine drawn from the barrel and served in small metal carafes. Today, some of their clientele have moved up to a popular new restaurant hybrid: the "neo-taverna," which serves traditional fare in surroundings that are more stylish than the usual tavern decor of island posters and wooden figurines; most are located in the up-and-coming industrial-cum-arty districts of central Athens, such as Gazi. At the same time, enduring in popularity are the traditional magereika ("cookeries"): humble, no-frills eateries where the food, usually displayed behind glass windows, is cooked grandma's style—it's simple, honest, time-tested, filling comfort (note that some of the best, like Anthos at 10 Kolokotroni street, are only open for lunch). Even local fast-food chain Goody's has been influenced by this style of cooking and offers a seasonal selection of dishes and salads that emulate home cooking.
Trends? Athens's got 'em. On the one hand, there is a marked return to Greek regional cooking, especially Cretan cuisine, widely regarded as one of the healthiest versions of the olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet. On the other hand, Athenians are increasingly eager to explore international flavors. In fact, by the time the Olympics premiered in 2004, Athens was on the verge of becoming a suburb of Paris or London. With many groundbreaking chefs obsessed with modern nouveau cuisine, there was, for a while, a real danger of some loss of tradition. Since then, things have stabilized. What saved the day were Greek ingredients: fresh out of the garden and right off the boat, they inspired chefs to get reacquainted with their culinary roots. A whole constellation of hip, all-in-one bar-restaurants have emerged, revolving around star chefs and glitterati customers. Sleek interior designs, very late-night hours, dedicated DJs, and adjoining lounges full of beautiful people have become Athenian recipes for success.
But some things remain eternal. Athenian dining is seasonal. In August, when residents scatter to the hills and seaside, many restaurants and tavernas close, with the hippest bar-restaurants reopening at choice seaside positions. And visitors remain shocked by how late Greeks dine. It's normal (even on a weekday) to show up for a meal at 9 or 10 and to leave long after midnight … only to head off for drinks. Hotel restaurants, Piraeus seafood places, and Plaka tavernas keep very late hours. Most places serve lunch from about noon to 4 (and sometimes as late as 6) and dinner from about 8 or 9 until at least midnight. When in Athens, don't hesitate to adopt this Zorbaesque lifestyle. Eat, drink, party, and enjoy life—knowing full well that, as a traveler, there can always be a siesta at your disposal the next day.
Dining, Athens Style
Taverna culture is all about sharing. People often order main meat, fish, or vegetable courses, but often share these, salads, and appetizers with the entire dinner party. It's a nice alternative to being stuck with just one choice. Vegetarians will find some of their best options in the appetizers, though they'd be wise to avoid grill restaurants, where fried potatoes may be their only option. Tipping is less strict than in many countries. There is a service charge on the bill, but it doesn't necessarily go to the staff, so Athenians often leave a tip of 10%. Feel free to request tap water in a pitcher (it's good in Athens) as opposed to bottled water, which may be brought automatically to your table without your request. As in most other cosmopolitan cities, dress varies from casual to fancy, according to the establishment. Although Athens is informal and none of the restaurants listed here requires a jacket or tie, locals make an effort to look their best when out on the town, so you may feel more comfortable dressing up a bit, especially at more-expensive places. After years of swallowing secondhand smoke, the scales are tilting in nonsmokers' favor. As of July 2009, smoking is no longer permitted at bars and restaurants. Some larger establishments, however, are allowed to have special smoking sections. It's best to check a restaurant's smoking policy by phone first. Children are welcome in most places, but it's best to check in advance for upscale establishments.
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