ATHENS – GREEK RENAISSANCE
Despite a permanent crisis and an uncertain future, Athens is a surprisingly cheerful place. This is also noticeable in the gastronomic scene: Good-humored Greeks sit in cafés, bars and restaurants over coffee, cocktails or a hearty meal.
June 2021, Reading time: 13 Minuten
Kalamaki Kolonaki: greek idyll in the middle of the big city.
Avocado: nice service, green cuisine.
Greek vacationers usually have only one thing in mind: to get to one of the many islands as quickly as possible. The capital is usually left out, which is a shame, because Athens has more to offer than the Acropolis, the changing of the guard in front of the Parliament and the stadium of the first Olympic Games. There are chic shopping districts like Kolonaki, cool neighborhoods like Mets or Exarchia, lively weekly markets and interesting museums. In addition, the millenary metropolis scores with an almost indestructible cheerfulness and a gastronomy that is far better than its reputation.
Whether at the souvlaki stall or in a Michelin-starred restaurant – almost everywhere you go, the food is genuinely Greek and genuinely good. If you don’t want to miss out on moussaka, gyros or lamb shank, you’ll get your money’s worth in the taverns and cellar pubs around the central Varvakeios market hall. But many Greeks have long since moved away from their traditional calorie bombs. Fish – even if only in the form of modest sardines – legumes, salads and vegetables dominate the menus of trendy eateries. There you will find surprising dishes like warm chickpea salad with feta and dill, a fish ceviche or makarounes (macaroni) with spinach, walnuts and a creamy goat cheese. This is accompanied by Greek wine, a popular drink since ancient times, a cool Fix Hellas beer or ouzo, an aniseed schnapps that reliably accompanies you through the night even after dinner.
A team of musicians, fashion people and political scientists transformed the gorgeous yet quite battered 19th-century apartment building into a casually sophisticated café. At Philos, you can have a nice breakfast, and for lunch you can have quinoa salad or avocado toast with egg. Plus: classical music, international magazines and interesting people. Solonos 32, Tel. +30 21 0361 9163
According to American Vogue, the Koukaki district is Athens’ “newest cool neighborhood.” Café Kinonó is definitely pretty cool and so are the people who frequent it. The light-filled place with its long wooden counter and subtle retro music serves scrambled eggs, pastrami sandwiches, salad with goat cheese and a delicious chocolate cake with orange. Falirou 48, Tel. +30 21 1408 6826
In the small street bar not far from the market and the university, you don’t just drink any coffee, but choose carefully: would you rather have the Estate Blend, which tastes of chocolate, cinnamon and berries, or the strong Rosebud Blend? You can sit outside or at the few seats inside. The baristas are masters at the Marzocco espresso machine, but they also like to filter by hand. Emmanouil Benaki 7, Tel. +30 21 0380 0014
To find Athens’ best bakery, follow your nose – Takis exudes his scent throughout the block. Founder Takis Papadopoulos came to Athens from Tessaloniki in 1961, and today his sons run the old-fashioned store at the foot of the Acropolis. The offer includes about 30 types of bread, baked fresh daily, plus cakes and fluffy croissants, which can be eaten at leisure in the café next door. Misaraliotou 14, Tel. +30 21 0923 0052
The best souvlaki joint in town and is run by Kostas Junior, the grandson of the founder. Although the snack bar seems unpretentious, there is an emphasis on good, fresh ingredients: The pita is fluffy, and the freshly grilled meat is topped only with real Greek yogurt, a few tomato chunks, fine onion rings, parsley, salt and cayenne pepper. The only seating is a meager wooden bench in front of the door, yet Kostas has so many customers that he’s often sold out by early afternoon. Pentelis 5, Tel. +30 21 0322 8502
Opened in 1906 by the Lobotesis family, Ariston remains unchanged today, and the warm kourou cakes baked from a yogurt-butter-feta dough invented by the founder are still considered bestsellers. In addition, there are daily changing versions of the classic filo pastry pies, sometimes filled with spinach and feta, sometimes with mushrooms, sometimes with minced meat or with cheese. Voulis 10, Tel. +30 21 0322 7626
This small corner store seems unspectacular, but connoisseurs know that Guarantee serves the best sandwiches in town. Each one is filled by owner Yannis Karabelas, his wife or his son in front of the customers according to their individual wishes, e.g. with homemade roast beef, fresh goat cheese, grilled eggplant and self-made chive pesto. Veikou 41, Tel. +30 21 0922 6924
The vegetarian trend has also caught on in meat-loving Athens. The cute Plaka eatery Avocado is dedicated to the fruit of the same name and presents it both on homemade hummus and in salads or in burger form. Insiders order the Go Green Juice made with spinach, parsley, apple and ginger and sit on the small terrace. Nikis 30, avocadoathens.com
This spacious, light-filled eatery is in a former auto repair shop and could be exported one-for-one to Miami Beach, thanks to its vintage look, multicultural menu and aquamarine awning. There are great juices, delicious cocktails and an extremely good cappuccino. Plus: falafel, croque monsieur, vegetarian tacos, Korean roast pork sandwich, fried eggs … Falirou 88, Tel. +30 21 3032 6450
Eight tables painted in faded pastel shades on the sidewalk of a rising alley – that’s all there is here. From the kitchen comes everything you’d want on a Greek vacation: tzatziki, grilled feta cheese with tomatoes, meat skewers and, of course, an opulent Greek salad. Ploutarchou 32, Tel. +30 21 0721 8800
Chef Sotiris Kontizas is half Greek and half Japanese, and the cuisine at the minimalist Nolan is correspondingly exotic: delicious fricassee of raw fish marinated in egg, lemon, and fennel according to an ancient Greek recipe, a crispy Nolan Cod Burger with homemade tartar sauce, or fried squid on parsley miso butter. Pair it with a glass of white wine from Peloponnese. Voulis 31, Tel. +30 21 0324 3545
Nearly 300 guests can be seated in the classrooms and beautiful courtyard of a former school. The food is served according to the so called “mezedopoleio” principle: you order various dishes and share them. So everyone gets something from the steamed octopus on potato salad, the meatballs flavored with ouzo or spinach salad with cream cheese, pomegranate and raisins. Locals choose one of the twelve different ouzos to go with it. Kallidromiou 69, Tel. +30 21 0384 5978
Unpretentious, very popular neighborhood eatery in the trendy Pangrati district. In summer, there is a long row of tables on the sidewalk. There you can enjoy the balmy evening air, baked graviera cheese with honey and mustard seeds, or kleftiko, a meat-feta-herb combo in a parchment packet. Arrianou 31, Tel. +30 21 0722 3466
What appears to be a plain Greek taverna is a decidedly cool place serving creative Greek cuisine. In the evening, Athens’ hippsters order cool Zeos beer, tender grilled sardines, chickpeas with feta and mint, or the delicious Dakos salad of bread, tomatoes, capers, and olive oil. The kitchen is integrated into the dining room; the music is as good as the cocktails, and there’s a terrace, too. Keramikou 49, Tel. +30 21 1183 4789
This idyllic garden restaurant in the posh Kifissia district was tastefully decorated in 1950s style, reminiscent of the time when the estate was inhabited by the court of the then reigning King Paul I. Today the rich and beautiful of the city sit here and enjoy the delicious Greek cuisine and excellent wines. Zirini 2, Kifissia, artisanal.gr/en
When half-French Madeleine Lorantos had her marketing job over and found a vacant corner store in a prime Plaka location, she opened Heteroclito, one of Athens’ first wine bars. Her very Parisian-looking establishment glows and sparkles like Blink Brut from Macedonia, which, like many of the other 200 or so Greek wines on offer, is also available by the glass. Fokionos 2, heteroclito.gr/en
This tiny trendy bar is still considered an insider tip, and you first have to find the narrow side alley where it’s hidden. Insiders come for the quirky interior with aquamarine walls, red leather seats and dim lighting, but also for the good DJs who play on weekends, and for the delicious Ginger Joe, a cocktail with rum, ginger syrup and lime juice. Ipitou 4, Tel. +30 21 0324 9616
Baba au Rum
The bar is where people stand in a dense cluster outside the door. Inside, the bass is booming and it’s hard to tell your order at the bar counter. If you let the bartender do it, you’ll probably soon have one of the many daiquiri variations in your hand or a Baba’s Zombie, which consists of five kinds of rum, various fruit juices, spices and other (secret) ingredients. Klitiou 6, Tel. +30 21 1710 9140
Cool bar in the cool district of Pangrati. The music is loud, the guests young, the mood boisterous and cheerful. If you can’t find a seat at the few tables, the bar or on the cushioned window sills, just stay on the sidewalk in front of the door. They serve you there, too. Proklou & Archimidous 1, Tel. +30 21 0756 3374
Olive oil from Kalamata? Honey from Crete? Feta from Arcadia? Yoleni’s has over 2,500 products from small producers focusing on high quality, good taste and our environment. Pita bread is baked in the entrance area; there is also a cooking school, a wine bar and a few tables for the small hunger in between. Solonos 9, yolenis.com/en-gr
This large store is considered the undisputed institution when it comes to halva (sesame paste), rosewater-flavored loukoums (syrupy bites) or glyka koutaliou (candied fruit). Cashew kernels, pistachios and almonds are stored in large open jute bags; dried cherries, grapes or dates take up an entire wall. Karageorgi Servias 3, +30 21 0325 2054
Varvakeios (market hall)
Inaugurated in 1886, the central market is definitely worth a visit. Food shoppers get their money’s worth at the many spice stalls and at the fruit and vegetable market, where you can also find bitter green olives from Crete or the famous Kalamata olives. They cost almost nothing and can easily be carried in hand luggage. Athinas 42
If you enter this store with an empty stomach, it’s your own fault. You will leave with sachets and packets containing something sweet: irregularly broken Greek muesli bars, candied oranges or the chocolate candy filled with halva, coated in dark chocolate and rolled in roasted and chopped peanuts. Delicious! Patriarchou Loakim 31, Tel. +30 21 0722 2422
Coco-Mat Athens BC
„Sleep on nature” is the motto of the Greek label Coco-Mat and founder Pavlos Efmorfidis takes it seriously. This is evident in his hotels. The group’s youngest and most luxurious hotel resides in a modernist building and scores with simple, beautiful rooms in pale natural tones and furnished with light woods, as well as with a sensational roof terrace with pool and view of the Acropolis. Double rooms from 125 Euro, 5 Falirou, athensbc.com
Photo: Nikos Danilidis
Greek modernism in a 1930 office building on the trendy and picturesque Agia Irini Square. Available are 38 spacious rooms with gray terrazzo floors, free-standing wooden wardrobes, brass lamps, and velvet pillows. On the second floor is a Zen center with daily meditation and yoga classes. Double rooms from 162 Euro, Limpona 2, perianthhotel.com
Chic design hotel in the middle of the city. The rustic wood structures and opulent velvet chairs are by the famous Campana brothers, and the artwork is from hotel owner Dakis Joannou’s collection. The 79 rooms have handsome wooden floors and gold sinks; a spacious suite with terrace and outdoor bed sits enthroned on the 7th floor. Double rooms from 201 Euro, Filellinon 16, yeshotels.gr/newhotel
Six light-filled guest rooms with wide wooden beds, comfy sofas, antique desks, and modern bathrooms in an early 20th-century city palace in Athens’ chic Kolonaki neighborhood. Despite its central city location, you’ll stay quietly and shielded from the hustle and bustle. A delicious Greek breakfast is served on the terrace in sunny weather. Double room from 110 Euro, Sina 48, monsieurdidot.com