Athens Restaurants

Doesn't anybody eat at 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 (many of which have lowered their prices accordingly) in record numbers. And it's easy for visitors to the capital 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, wobbly tables that needed coins under one leg, and hima wine drawn from the barrel. There are still plenty of them around, but today some of their clientele has moved up to a popular new restaurant hybrid: the "gastro-taverna," which serves traditional fare in surroundings that are more modern and creative. Most are located in the up-and-coming industrial-cum-arty districts of Central Athens, such as Gazi-Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio and attract youths who stay nibbling, sipping tsipouro (a distilled grape spirit), and laughing for hours. At the same time, enduring in popularity are the traditional magereia ("cookeries"): humble, no-frills eateries where the food, usually displayed behind glass windows, is cooked in grandma's style—it's simple, honest, time-tested, filling comfort food. Some noteworthy magereia are located around the bustling Ayias Irinis Square in the heart of Monastiraki. Of course cheap, filling, and delicious souvlaki is more popular than ever, and local favorites still have queues. Meanwhile, Athenians' evolving taste for exotic foods, combined with a tighter budget, has led to the opening of numerous ethnic street food restaurants—some just holes in the wall—serving expertly made, authentic options.

Trends? Athens has them. Health-centric restaurants specializing in vegan, vegetarian, and raw food seem to be blossoming more, as well as sophisticated juice bars. These would have stood out just a few years ago; now they have competitors. Organic food stores can be found in every neighborhood, many selling Greek-grown concoctions made in the traditional style by small producers, many of whom returned to the rural homeland after facing unemployment; look for local truffle oils, unpasteurized craft beer, and gold leaf honey. Most Greeks value pure, high-quality, and easily accessible staples like the seasonal vegetables and fruit, medicinal handpicked herb teas, and nuts that they hunt for at the weekly neighborhood laiki market, as well as the multitude of Greek product stores. With less money to spend, Athenians now order more discerningly and in smaller quantities, but they resolutely linger outside, which never seems to be a problem for restaurant owners.

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, 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 the next day.

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  • 1. Papadakis

    $$$$ | Kolonaki | Seafood

    Picture this: it's twilight and you're sitting under bitter-orange trees at one of Athens's best fish restaurants, in the heart of Kolonaki...Read More

  • 2. Balthazar

    $$ | Ilisia | Contemporary

    In an airy neoclassical mansion with a leafy, minimalist courtyard—paved with original painted tiles, canopied by huge date palms, and illuminated...Read More

  • 3. Noel

    $$ | Syntagma | Mediterranean

    A recent addition to the trendy Syntagma nightlife scene, Noel is the kind of bar-restaurant that people talk about with a smile on their face...Read More

  • 4. Seychelles

    $$ | Metaxourgeio | Greek

    Although it's named after one of the world's most exotic destinations, this restaurant is almost provincially Greek in its ingredients and culinary...Read More

  • 5. Spiti Mas

    $ | Psirri | Mediterranean

    With a name that means "our house" in Greek, Spiti Mas is designed like the interior of a home, with a bed, a dining area, a "balcony" out on...Read More

  • 6. Zurbaran

    $$$ | Kolonaki | Mediterranean

    This new, ultramodern spot just minutes from Kolonaki Square draws the city's fashionistas and moneyed good-timers like bees to honey. A solid...Read More

  • 7. Cucina Povera

    $$ | Pangrati | Mediterranean

    Poor cuisine"? Nothing is of poor taste in this chic eaterie, which has become so popular among gourmet urbanites that bookings are necessary...Read More

  • 8. Sardelles

    $$ | Gazi-Kerameikos | Seafood

    If you love seafood and don't want to pay a fortune for it, don't miss this trendy (and by now classic) eatery in the heart of party-loving...Read More

  • 9. The Breeder Feeder

    $$$ | Metaxourgeio | Eclectic

    You wouldn't think Athens is on the bleeding-edge of the restaurant scene but what can top this? This contemporary art space, housed in a masterfully...Read More

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