An insider’s guide to the best places to eat in Athens, including where to find delicious seafood, Michelin starred dining and views of the Acropolis. By Jane Foster, Telegraph Travel’s Athens expert.
Athens has a fine range of eateries ranging from down-to-earth traditional tavernas to upmarket restaurants serving fusion cuisine. Plaka is undeniably pretty, though many of its restaurants are aimed at tourists and can be a little disappointing. In the city centre, is where you will find some excellent so-called modern tavernas, serving classic Greek dishes with a contemporary twist.
Widely acknowledged as the finest seafood restaurant in Athens, Lefteris Lazarou’s Michelin-starred Varoulko has long been a magnet for foodies. In summer 2014 it relocated to Piraeus, Mr Lazarou’s home ground, and is now named Varoulko Seaside. The approach has changed too, and it’s now open all-day, with a reasonably-priced lunch menu and a more expensive dinner menu. The emphasis remains on seafood, so you can look forward to delights such as Grilled squid with black eyed beans and marjoram, flavoured with cumin, followed by Red mullet fillets with a light lemon sauce. You’ll find it at a lovely waterside location, overlooking the yachts and fishing boats in Mikrolimano Bay.
Awarded a second Michelin star in 2014, the menu here features refined, imaginatively presented Creative Mediterranean cuisine, with delicacies such as Greek botargo (salted and cured fish roe) with white chocolate and Lobster from Halkidiki. They offer two separate degustation menus, ranging from €120 to €150, with optional wine pairing. You’ll find it in a neoclassical building with a glass conservatory-style dining room up top.
In up-and-coming Metaxourgio, Aleria occupies a neoclassical building with an old tile floor and a romantic leafy courtyard out back. The menu includes delights such as crayfish with sorrel and pink grapefruit, or duck with wild berries, celeriac puree, caramelized shallots and roast turnip, plus two degustation menus (priced €44 and €58). Besides an excellent wine list, they also have a “bring your own wine” policy (€12 corking fee).
One of the few restaurants in touristy Plaka to be patronised by Athenians, Psarras has been serving up authentic Greek cooking since 1898. As romantic as it gets, it has wooden tables arranged on mulberry-shaded whitewashed steps leading up to the Acropolis, and former guests have included Brigitte Bardot. There’s live music every evening except Tuesdays.
On a small square, where antique-shop owners restore wooden furniture during the day, this informal eatery does delicious Greek dishes with influences from Anatolia – think lamb or chicken flavoured with cumin and fresh mint, or veal cooked with aubergine. The old-fashioned ground-floor dining room has floral wallpaper and marbletop tables, while there’s a romantic roof terrace up top with fantasic Acropolis views. The place also stages live music.
Tzitzikas kai Mermigas
One block down from Syntagma Square, the “Grasshopper and Ant” serves modern Greek taverna fare. There are a few unusual and truly delicious dishes, such as the Mastihato (chicken in a creamy mastiha sauce, flavoured with mastic, a type of aromatic tree resin), which is most people’s favourite. Each table has a little drawer, where you’ll find your cutlery. There’s a slight feeling that the waiters are looking for a fast turnover, but it’s still a great choice.
With tables below the stars on a splendid Acropolis-view roof terrace, Strofi is the perfect choice for a romantic dinner. It dates from 1975, and Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn once ate here after performing at the Summer Festival. Formerly renowned for hearty Greek fare, it now serves traditional taverna dishes with a twist, such as gemistes tomates (tomatoes stuffed with rice, sultanas and pine kernels) and kokoras krasatos (cockerel stewed in red wine, served with pasta). The decor has also been updated, to give it an all-white minimalist-chic look.
Experience Athens as-it-used-to-be at this old-fashioned taverna, close to the Central Market. The open-plan kitchen turns out authentic home-cooking, such as cheese-and-spinach pies and casseroled meat dishes, plus wine by the carafe. Much loved by locals, who tend to come in groups, it gets very busy and smoky in winter. Besides the food, the main pull is live music (Tue-Thu 9.30pm onwards; Fri-Sun 4pm onwards).
On pedestrian-only Aiolou street, informal Mama Roux is a magnet for Greek hipsters, who come here to feast on colourful salads, homemade soup of the day, and delicious burgers – try the French Kiss (Black Angus steak with caramelised onion, rocket and goat’s cheese). They also do a popular Sunday brunch – think Eggs Benedict and pancakes with maple syrup.