Exploring Greek FOOD and DRINK: Where to Dine

Greek food is surprising. While it’s not as famous as Italian or Spanish, the same Southern European fundamentals apply. Start with fresh organic produce, use recipes that have been nurtured over generations, and remember that beauty can be found in simplicity. The Greek food you eat at a restaurant in North America can’t compare, mostly because the raw ingredients are difficult to source. Take stuffed grape leaves (Dolmades) as an example. Elegant yet incredibly simple, the dish is based on the quality of the fresh leaves and olive oil. Which is why the dish has never really caught off outside Greece.

There’s something more that makes the experience though. Drinking and dining in Greece isn’t about what you put into your mouth, but the time that drinking and dining is afforded. Eating is the centerpiece of local society and defines the important hours of the day. Travel to Greece and you don’t need to know what you are going to eat. Don’t worry about a list of must-try dishes. There will be lots of time to try it all. Instead, get accustomed with where you will eat, because these are the places where you will spend a lot of your time.

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The Greek Experience: Enjoying all the Different Places to Dine

Greece is full of tradition and the places you dine have been established for many centuries. Each has its own atmosphere and it’s unfortunate that many tourists only experience the estiatorio, the most recent innovation and most expensive place to eat. Explore a little wider and you’ll come to love all the distinctive styles.

Kafeneions – These old-fashioned cafes are where you come for coffee, iced coffee, ouzo and raki, perhaps washed down with a bottle of beer. Extremely traditional, they are often the hub of a village, where men play backgammon and talk an afternoon away. While they look intimidating from the outside, they are probably the most welcoming places in Greece.

Zacharoplastio – Where the locals hang out for coffee and cake on late summer afternoons.

Taverna – A small and cheap place to dine that has been around since Ancient Greece. In the time of Alexander the Great, taverns were local houses where travelers could pay a small amount for a simple meal. They remain the best place to eat home-cooked cuisine in an informal setting.

Psarotaverna – A special fish tavern where you buy fish by the weight. Look out for red sea bream and red mullet, or a soup with scorpion fish.

Ouzeris – Traditional ouzeris serve ouzo (of course) and a meze of snacks. These were introduced by the Ottomans and are ideal places for a light dinner, combining the atmosphere of a cafe with good-quality small bites.

Zacharoplasteion – The Greeks love their sweet stuff, from pastries stuffed with raisins and nuts to cream-filled pies. Rather than order a dessert at a restaurant or tavern, visit these patisseries to crave your sweet tooth.

Estiatorio – If there is a cloth covering the dining table in Greece then it’s a restaurant (estiatorio). If the menu is in English then it is also a restaurant, even if it looks like a tavern. Essentially, the estiatorio is where you pay double the price for your food compared to a taverna. Usually it’s not worth the extra money, but look out for the psitesteatoreons, special grill restaurants.

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The Crete Experience: A Selection of Local Favorites to Try

Plateia, Mirthios – The views from this village taverna are so good you can almost see Africa. It’s packed with locals at the weekend but quiet on weekdays.

Avli, Rethymno – An elegant restaurant with a sublime garden setting and a full range of traditional Cretan favorites. Try the roasted goat.

Ouzeri Terzaki, Irakleio – Where the locals go for their mezes.

The Old Mill, Elounda – The most expensive and luxurious restaurant in Crete but it’s worth it when you want to splurge. Book ahead.

Kalliotzina, Koutsouras – There is no menu here. In true old-world style you visit the kitchen and they show what is on offer.

Taverna Androulidakis, Gonia – Atmospheric al fresco dining throughout the summer: most people stay for the whole afternoon.

Kali Kardia, Siteai – Very authentic meze that includes lots of strange Cretan specialities, such as grilled snails. Enjoy it with wine served straight from the barrel.

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