The historic Greek capital, Athens, is the home of Mediterranean cuisine and a culinary haven for those looking to indulge in some Hellinc specialties.

I can’t help but have a soft spot for Athens. There’s a real buzz about the food scene here; nothing brings out my inner foodie more than sitting on a stool outside a taverna in Plaka, stuffing my face into a loaded gyros as the tzatziki sauce slowly oozes onto the plate in front of me.

If you’re wondering what the best food is in Athens, you’re certainly at the right place. I’ve created this list of the must-try signature dishes in the Greek capital that are essential to taste during your time there. Moreover, all of these gourmet offerings can also be tried on our Eating Europe Athens food tours!

Gyros

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Did you really think I was going to start this list with any food other than gyros? This stuffed pita bread delight is said to have popped up in Greece in 1922; the recipe was brought to the country by a bunch of Armenian refugees from Asia Minor, now Turkey.

Gyros are packed pita wraps with herb-seasoned meats, either chicken, lamb, or beef, and onions, crispy French fries, tomato, and tzatziki sauce. The meat is usually slow-cooked on a free-standing rotisserie and sliced off when someone orders, similar to a kebab.

Where To Eat It?

If you’re up for trying some authentic gyros while you’re in Athens, stop by Gyros Pou Gyrevis. It’s a classic takeaway joint close to the Acropolis with a little seating area out front. It’s always filled with locals in the evening diving into loaded gyros after a long day of work.

I had one of the tastiest chicken gyros I’ve ever had here; it was served to me on cone-shaped paper, and the aromas of the onion and garlic that hit my nose sure excited me for what was ahead.

The succulent chicken had a zesty, garlicky side to it; I could tell it was cooked in lemon and olive oil. With every bite came an explosion of thyme and oregano from the spices, and the French fries added a salty aftertaste.

Gyros Pou Gyrevis (€) – Αθανασίου Διάκου 1 Ακρόπολη, Athina 117 42, Greece – Every day, 11:00 am to 12:00 am

Greek Salad

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Almost every dish you order in Athens will be complemented with a Greek salad; come on, you’re in Greece; it’s tradition! 

Made up of feta cheese, bell peppers, diced tomatoes, kalamata olives, and cucumbers, the concept of Greek salad came after the brutal Greek-Turkish war of 1897. 

Since ingredients were scarce, Greeks worked with whatever they could to survive, and today, we have one of the most readily available dishes globally.

Where To Eat It?

An all-time favorite spot of mine for a Greek salad in seconds away from the Acropolis Museum is Smile Restaurant. Between the open-air setting and the kitchen view dining space, this place is perfect for a traditional Greek feast.

The flavors of the Greek salad here still stick with me like it was yesterday, from the creaminess from the feta to the burst of sweetness, underscored by the mild acidity of the tomato.

The Greek salad alone would be enough to fill you here; it came out to me piled up in a massive round bowl. I’m surprised some of the vegetables didn’t fall out as the server dropped them at the table.

Smile Restaurant (€€€) – Pl. Tsokri 1, Athina 117 42, Greece – Every day, 8:30 am to 11:00 pm

Souvlaki

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A typical street food you’ll smell before you see wandering the streets of Athens is souvlaki. The first evidence of souvlaki was when stone instruments were found on the Greek island of Santorini, where it’s said that the famous recipe dates back to the 17th Century BCE.

Souvlaki are meat-topped skewers of either beef, lamb, or chicken, where the meat is marinated and covered in tzatziki sauce. Often, a portion of fries is served on the side. 

I personally like to eat my souvlaki by holding the skewer and biting it. However, some Greeks like to remove the meat with a knife and fork before having the first bite.

Where To Eat It?

For a delicious roadside serving of souvlaki, be sure to head to Street Souvlaki. A casual, no-frills roadside kitchen specializing in modern Greek dishes, I didn’t know what to expect when I stumbled across this place at first. 

However, after my first skewer, I soon realized why every second Athenian was telling me to visit.

I ordered the pork souvlaki with green peppers, and it came out with little pieces of triangle slices of pita bread. The pork had a smoky kick to it as it was charred; there was also a sharp, vinegary side, which paired nicely with the nuttiness of the pita bread.

Street Souvlaki (€) – Kolokotroni 30, Athina 105 62, Greece – Sunday to Thursday, 11:00 am to 2:00 am, and Friday and Saturday, 11:00 am to 3:00 am

Keftedes

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Get your fix of meatballs, Greek style, by sampling a portion of keftedes. This popular meze (small plates of appetizers) is made with a mixture of ground beef and pork, various spices, breadcrumbs, onions, eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper. These flavorful little snacks are a delight no matter what time of the day it is.

I’ve also seen keftedes offered in many different variations, including some stuffed with feta or even with tomato sauce and spaghetti, like the Italians do it. 

My go-to combination when I’m anywhere in Greece is some keftedes and a cheeky shot of ouzo, a traditional Greek spirit that has a strong licorice taste and a high alcohol content.

Where To Eat It?

The last time I was in Athens, I was craving keftedes. I found this restaurant in Χαυτεία called Keftepolis, I assumed it would be a safe bet since it had what I was looking for, and boy, I wasn’t wrong. 

There was a relaxing atmosphere when I visited; it wasn’t too loud, and the staff were always checking on me, but not way overboard like some other places I’ve been to in Athens.

The keftedes came with five pieces; the minced meat was so juicy and quite rich because of the breadcrumbs and eggs used in the mix. I also could taste some light cinnamony notes and a peppery tinge. 

Make sure you order some bread on the side to make a little sandwich as it is common practice among the Greeks. Also, don’t be afraid to take them up on their Greek wine; it was delicious when I had it, and the way the crisp aftertaste complemented the herbal notes was divine.

Keftepolis (€) – Kaniggos 6, Athina 106 77, Greece – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, 11:00 am to 9:00 pm, and Thursday, 11:00 am to 9:30 pm

Spanakopita

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Spanakopita is another classic dish for the Greek cuisine that you’re going to love; it’s a spinach pie with filo pastry; it’s very similar to borek, which you’ll find in most Balkan nations.

Some of the ingredients used to make spanakopita include spinach, filo pastry, feta cheese, leeks, olive oil, and spring onions. Spanakopita has always been a typical breakfast snack; you can find them cut into slices in most bakeries as soon as the sun comes up over Athens in the morning.

Where To Eat It?

I received a local recommendation for spanakopita a while back from an Athenian, and I can’t advocate for it enough: Bougatsadiko Psirri. 

The place has so much character, with its old wooden interiors and bakers preparing the goods through the windows, which passers-by wandering through the Psirri district can see.

Bougatsadiko Psirri is quite famous for its spanakopita, and I was lucky enough to see why. The slices were incredibly thin and crisped to perfection, with the feta oozing out of the sides with every bite I took. 

The flavor profile was a mix of earthy from the spinach and a layer of creaminess from the feta, while the dough gave it a nice starchy edge with a delightful salty touch.

Bougatsadiko Psirri (€)Pl. Iroon 1, Athina 105 54, Greece – Every day, 7:00 am to 1:00 am

Baklava

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I can bet as soon as you get to Athens, you won’t be able to resist a slice or two of baklava, a sweet dessert offering made with sheets of filo pastry and loaded with pistachio nuts and a sweet syrup and or honey.

There’s a lot of controversy about where baklava came from. Greeks and Turks have always argued over where this delicious treat originated. 

One of the earliest mentions of the recipe dates back to the 8th century BCE, when the Assyrian Empire, which includes certain areas in Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey, was established. However, the Greeks firmly believe it started in their land.

Where To Eat It?

Give your sweet tooth what it wants with some baklava in the Alchemist Cafe Patisserie. Often dubbed one of the best places to try baklava in Greece, I knew I had to put this statement to the test the last time I was in the capital.

The Alchemist Cafe Patisserie is on the outskirts of the city’s main tourist hub, so I had to take a bus to get there, but it was so worth it. I spotted the baklava tucked away in a golden-lit tray as soon as I walked inside, and I noticed the light crispiness and butteriness immediately.

Since I came all that way, I decided to order two slices; they had a sugary honey coating, which tasted amazing with the creamy, vanilla musky notes from the pistachio.

I ordered a cup of traditional Greek coffee with my slice of baklava. Greek coffee is made with fine-grind coffee; my cup was very strong and tasted bitter and smoky. Luckily, the sweetness from the baklava gave it some balance.

Alchemist Cafe Patisserie (€€) – Chatzichristou 8, Athina 117 42, Greece – Monday to Thursday, 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, Friday, 9:00 am to 10:30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 am to 11:00 pm

Briam

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If you’re a vegan or looking to avoid meat for dinner, briam is the perfect option. I do like to eat this dish when I’m running low on fiber; it’s made with potatoes, zucchini, red onions, sliced tomatoes, and aubergines; I would describe it as almost like a veggie casserole.

Briam is mainly a summertime dish in Athens. However, you can still find it sold in many establishments across the city regardless of the time of year. 

Most Greeks like to enjoy briam when it’s hot, but some prefer it at room temperature. I prefer it when it’s warm, as it brings out the flavors better.

Where To Eat It?

I always send my friends to Athens for a briam at Bandiera, a charming eatery which sits below the famous Acropolis. Besides the amazing food, there’s a lovely atmosphere here, created by the redbrick interior, pendant lights, and friendly team of staff.

The briam here steals the show for me every time; I like to order it as a side because it comes in a big bowl, and you can share it around the table between you and your party.

What makes the briam more memorable here than everywhere else is the sheer amount of flavors that explode onto the palate with every mouthful. I got a lovely earthiness from the potatoes with some crunch, a light mintiness from the herbs, and a delightful tanginess from the tomato.

Bandiera (€€) – Taki 19, Athina 105 54, Greece – Tuesday to Sunday, 1:00 pm to 11:00 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Conclusion

It’s true when they say that if you want to try the best of all Greek food, you must go to Athens. 

While this is only a small list of the best foods in Athens, if you try all of these five bites, you will get a taste of what this massive culinary country has to offer.

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