Long renowned for its ancient treasures crowned by the Parthenon, Athens has more recently evolved into a hip European metropolis with a thriving contemporary art scene, bustling open-air cafes, live music venues, and slick hole-in-the-wall wine and cocktail bars. Restaurateurs in the Greek capital had no choice but to up their gastronomy game. Locals ease casually from street food king souvlaki by day to reimagined Greek cuisine by night, and from suave seaside locations in summer to city center backstreets in the cooler months. Here are 10 restaurants worth adding to your next Athens itinerary.
Best for Revised Greek: Papadakis
Local celebrity chef Argiro Barbarigou treats Greek culinary traditions with the respect they deserve while infusing them with a slight twist. She believes in uncomplicated recipes created with the quality raw materials found in abundance throughout Greece. While fish and seafood dominate the menu at Papadakis, chickpeas from her native Cycladic isle of Paros slow-cooked for 15 hours and served with taramosalata are signature Argiro. The octopus stew with sun-dried tomatoes and thyme honey is umami-rich. Located in the upscale Kolonaki district, the service is warm, and the best tables are those outdoors with an Acropolis view. Strawberry liqueur made in-house makes for an elegant digestive. Reservations are necessary.
Best for Japanese: Matsuhisa Athens
Nobu’s Athens outpost is located within the Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens in a spectacular position above the Saronic Sea in verdant Vouliagmeni on the Athens Riviera, south of the capital. Japanese minimalism meets Mediterranean verve at Matsuhisa Athens in a dramatic low-lit space whose al fresco seafront dining area is the most sought-after. Chef Nikos Skamnakis’ fusion cuisine menu features a lobster, spinach, and truffle salad, Cretan sea urchin sushi, and omakase courses. Dress up and be there for sunset, when the romance factor revs up. Open for lunch on weekdays and dinner daily, bookings are essential.
Best for Romance: Moorings
Surprise your partner by celebrating a special occasion, or even just a date, at this atmospheric sea-facing restaurant situated within a hidden marina in the southern Athens resort suburb of Vouliagmeni. Chef Andreas Shinas’ Mediterranean menu caters to fine dining devotees but doesn’t shy away from comfort food, like roasted cod fillet with smoked bacon. Vegan options include artichoke and spinach risotto and, for dessert, cheesecake with almond cream, cashews, and apricot. Ask your sommelier to recommend a new generation Greek wine. Bookings are a must and, if visiting in summer, request a table right by the water’s edge. Moorings is open for lunch and dinner.
Best for Italian: La Gratella
If you’re craving Italian food, head to the suburb of Halandri, a 25-minute cab ride north of the city center. La Gratella chef Miltos Vlachogiannis is Greek, but his passion and precision for pasta fresca and pizza Napoletano would make any mamma proud. Make yourself comfortable amid the warm wood details and vintage Italian decor. Sample the hand-crafted pasta (perhaps the agnolotti filled with prosciutto and grana Padano) or pizza (the option topped with mortadella, gorgonzola and pistachios is genius). Ask your waiter to suggest an organic, biodynamic Italian or Greek wine. Note the restaurant is usually closed in July and August. Open for lunch and dinner, reservations are recommended.
Best for Seafood: Yperokeanio
A former sea captain is behind Yperokeanio (which means ocean liner), located in the gritty port town of Piraeus from where ferries depart for the Greek islands. While some Athens restaurants can be a bit hit-or-miss, this retro-cool fish taverna delivers meze to be shared that is flawless. Grilled sardines served with diced tomato and fragrant oregano atop thin crisp bread is excellent. Ask about the small catch of the day, which is always crisply fried. Wash down the multiple meze with ouzo, firewater raki, or barrel wine. If you can, go on a weekday for lunch or dinner and sidestep the weekend rush.
Best for Souvlaki: Hoocut
This is not your average souvlaki. Greece is known the world over for its gyros or kalamaki (skewered meat)-filled wraps but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find good souvlaki in Athens. A quartet of chefs, including Spiros Liakos who longed for the small, tasty souvlaki of his youth, has created a premium version of the classic Greek street food. A key secret behind Hoocut’s success is the quality of the meat and the way it is sliced thin and thrown on the open kitchen grill the minute it’s ordered. Try mutton in a wrap or with fries. Hoocut is open for lunch and dinner.
Best for Downhome Greek: Diporto
Once known only to the vendors of Athens’ central Varvakio markets who would frequent it after closing up shop for the day, word has inevitably spread on this laidback taverna operating in the basement of a neoclassical building since 1887. There’s no menu. Kyr (Mr) Mitsos, the poker-faced, silver-mustachioed proprietor, reels off what’s on offer each day. Oblivious to its online fame, Diporto continues to dish out simple yet inconceivably delicious traditional Greek favorites, like fava (yellow split pea puree), potato stew, veal with orzo, and wild greens. Pair your meze with the proper tipple–retsina wine from the barrels lining one wall. Take note that it’s open for lunch and accepts walk-ins only.
Best for Fish: Estiatorio Milos
Restaurateur Costas Spiliadis brought impossibly flavor-rich fish caught in Greek waters to diners at his upscale Estiatorio Milos restaurant locations in Montreal, New York, London, and Las Vegas, among other cities. The Athens location, situated within the capital’s Hilton, is popular for business lunches and once-in-a-while dinner splurges. Come for Hellenic-style sashimi, wild rock oysters from the Cycladic island of Kythnos, and fish rarely seen outside Greece, like scorpion fish and red mullet. Fish is char-grilled or baked in salt, always whole, to preserve its juices. Fried courgette, aubergine, tzatziki and Kefalograviera cheese makes for a hearty side dish. Open for lunch and dinner, reservations are required.
Best for Creative Greek: Vezené
New York-born, self-taught chef-butcher Ari Vezene opened his unpretentious self-titled bistro in 2011 to critical acclaim. Two train stops from central Syntagma Square, Vezené is one of the city’s staunchest vanguards of farm to fork fare. He sources sustainable meat and scours the country for fish, seafood, and vegetables to create Greece-inspired, mostly wood-fired regional dishes. Athenians clamor for a table to sample seasonal, not-so-traditional Sunday roast lunch, whose starters might include a quail and graviera cheese pie or beef tartare with organic egg, black truffle, and hash browns. Vezené opens for dinner and, in fall and winter, for Sunday lunch. Bookings are recommended.
Best for Vegan: Avocado
Avocado was one of the first vegan-vegetarian café-restaurants to open in Athens and the offerings are as scrumptious as they are wholesome. Owner Eraj Shakib’s expansive menu runs the gamut from dahl to macro plates and tempeh to poke bowls. Pick up an acai berry smoothie for a mid-morning boost or pop in for lunch in soothing plant-filled surrounds. Dishes include a fresh take on a traditional Persian recipe that combines rice, avocado, edamame, dill, and pine nuts, as well as oven-roasted beets with avocado, spinach, and manouri cheese. Open for lunch and dinner (check closing time), walk-ins are welcome.