Where to Eat and Drink in Athens
Culinary pluralism is the best word to describe how the Athens food scene has developed over the decades. For many years, Athens wasn’t really invested in international or fusion cuisine but rather in flavours and recipes that came from different parts of the region.
Greek dishes can be split into two categories, those served at an oimomageirion and those you’ll find at a grill restaurant. In a grill restaurant meat is the main attraction: kebabs, spare ribs, meatballs, keftedes, steaks, etc. In an oinomageirion (translated as wine kitchen), you can order a variety of stews and soups, gemista (stuffed tomatoes and peppers), moussaka and ladera (vegetables cooked in rich olive oil).
A step up from these restaurants is the Greek tavern or neo-taverns. If you want to experience an authentic Athenian tavern, go to Klimataria which opened its doors in 1927. Another option is of course the fish taverns, mostly called ouzeri – named after the Greek spirit ouzo because we traditionally drink it with fish. If you’re after light bites and drinks, find your local mezedopolia or tsipouradika (again the name is from a spirit, tsipouro), the Greek version of a tapas bar.
This section would not have been complete without an honorary mention to the ultimate Athenian street food, souvlaki – there is even a book dedicated to its humble origins. It’s everywhere in Athens but if you want to taste something truly original then go to Lefteris O Politis in Omonoia. For over 70 years they have served the same type of souvlaki; it’s simple, juicy and spicy. One is never enough.
One last thing, Greek people are obsessed with coffee – iced coffee in particular – and they drink it all day and well into the night. They’ve even created their own variations on classics, like freddo espresso (iced espresso blended in a frappe coffee frother) and freddo cappuccino (iced espresso with foam milk on top). Invented in the 90s, you can find them pretty much anywhere and most places will deliver straight to your door, a trend that started in the pandemic. Aside from the freddo there is the famous frappé, a cold, instant coffee that originated in Thessaloniki. Let’s note here that there are three ways to order your coffee: sketos (without sugar), metrios (slightly sweet) and glykos (very sweet), milk is always optional. Traditional kafeneia are the perfect places to drink greek coffee, a hot, strong brew similar to Turkish coffee. And yes, it’s ok to drink tap water.