One of the big attractions of Greece for us was, of course, Mediterranean food! Here are several of our favorite places that we ate from all around the mainland. We’re definitely going to return to some of these places next time we make it to Greece!
Athens – Byzantino
One thing that we really did NOT like was the way the hosts would stand out in front of the restaurants like carnival hawkers and harangue passers-by to come in and eat there – but it was certainly not just Byzantino. This seemed to be standard practice at most of the places.
Fortunately we succumbed to the hawker at Byzantino, because this is where I had my most favorite meal of the whole trip – grilled octopus!
I generally don’t have favorable first thoughts when I think about eating octopus. I would expect it to be rubbery in texture and fishy in taste – like bad calamari. This was NOTHING like that. The texture of this octopus tentacle was very much like that of a steak and the predominant flavors were lemon and char from the grill. It was fabulous!
Lamia – Sourtapherta
Sourtapherta is a seafood taberna in the eastern port town of Lamia. I had a huge plate of sardines grilled till crispy on the edges and sprinkled with parsley and lemon, Elise had a fried seafood platter, much like you’d expect in the U.S. except with a side of roasted beets.
This is also the first place where we got to try one of Greece’s most iconic alcoholic drinks – ouzo, a potent, licorice-flavored brandy. We’re totally not fans of licorice-infused alcohol, probably because of dim memories of a certain green fairy in NOLA, but ouzo rapidly became one of my favorites!
Nea Anchilos – Geustikon
Geustikon appears to be the Greek equivalent of a blue collar lunch joint. This was one of our first exposures to authentic Greek gyros, and they were not at all what we expected but they were AWESOME! First of all, they did not have lamb because it was prohibitively expensive so nearly all the gyros in the country were pork roast or chicken. Secondly, they put the French fries inside the wrap with the meat and tzatziki – AND a squirt of yellow mustard and ketchup! Wasn’t bad, just surprising.
I figured the American-style fries in the gyro was some weird local thing, but we soon found out that wherever we went in the country, if we did not explicitly tell them to put the potatoes on the side, then it all went into the gyro.
We had a side of 1-2 bacon wrapped chicken souvlakis and they were very good.
Kudos to Geustikon for a great meal – and as a bonus, they have an archaeological site right in their back yard!
Ioannina – Petros Lyumbos
When we were renting our car in Athens, the manager of the rental was SUPER helpful! When he found out what sort of adventures we were up to (an open-ended self-guided driving tour of the mainland) he gave us maps and spent an hour or so circling must-see destinations for us.
“OH, and if you get this far, there is a place in north-western Greece where the locals actually eat frogs!”
“Oh really? Well, it just so happens that where we are from, we also eat frogs! We’ll have to check this place out.”
When we got to Ioannina we didn’t see frog legs on any menu anywhere so I asked a bartender at a local watering hole and she said, Oh, yes! The people on the island – they eat frog legs.” So we had to take a ferry out to the monastery island in the middle of lake Pamvotida in Ioannina to find a frog leg shop.
These were small frogs, not like the gigantic bullfrog legs that we enjoy in Louisiana, but they were battered and fried just like in Louisiana (I guess there’s not that many things that you can do to a frog leg to make it edible.)
These frogs were so small that when fried, the long bones became soft enough to eat the entire leg, bone and all. the only thing you’d have to spit out is the occasional cartilaginous joint capsule, which the plentiful island cats would beg for.
Patras – Labrinthos
This was a dark stone-flagged courtyard cafe in the middle of Patras. seemed like one of the oldest restaurants in modern Patras – the literature said that it was a family restaurant and was over 100 years old.
Here we had a fantastic Greek salad and mezzes plate – and when the proprietors found out that we were from America they brought us complementary desserts.
Archaea Olympia – Vasilakis
Vasilakis is a shaded sidewalk coffee place on a corner in New Olympia. We stopped there for refreshments during a midafternoon walkabout in the sweltering Peleponnesian sun. We had tzatziki and pita and beers – nothing extravagant but it hit the spot and cooled us off nicely.
Athens – Grill “The Kalyvas”
This was a late evening meal at a sidewalk cafe in Athens. We stopped there because of the delicious smell of meat roasting on a spit. They had set up a television on one of the only empty tables and the staff and patrons were all watching a soccer game.
When they realized that we wanted to sit down the old men watching the game didnt want us sitting in front of the tv at the only table available – so they quickly emptied and cleaned another table off to the side for us.
We had gyros w/ fries on the side (see – we’d learned how things worked at Nea Anchialos!) and a couple of souvlakis with our main course of beers.
Honestly, everything we had to eat in Greece was so fantastic that it is mostly futile to try to narrow it down to a handful of favorites. In Pireas we found a newly-opened alley cafe run by a Carribbian woman who fed us curried chicken and Greek salad. On the Road to Marathon we had espresso while listening to Snoop Dogg. In Litochoro we hit the local grocery store and got a bottle of wine, some pita, and a bowl of mixed marinated olives. Lefkada had several great gyro shops as well as great beach resorts!
If you are looking for a great getaway with delicious and inexpensive dining and accomodations, we cannot recommend mainland Greece highly enough. Maybe you’ll see us there!