Colibri constitutes something of an Athenian phenomenon: what started out as a small neighborhood pizza and burger takeout place in Mets, next to Athens’ grand First Cemetery, has now evolved into three successful restaurants where people actually queue for more than half an hour to eat homemade pizzas and burgers. The menu is the same in all three places, offering simple comfort food at decent prices.
Mainly because of its location, the best Colibri is the one on Empedokleous Street in Pagrati. One of Athens’ most popular neighborhoods, Pagrati is densely populated but still manages to maintain a relaxed feel, with shops, movie theaters and coffee shops all around. Empedokleous Street is particularly interesting: lively without being loud, and atmospheric without being touristy or folklorish.
Colibri is not exactly a conventional restaurant. There are only four or five tables inside the tiny space and the décor is an ode to randomness: torn-out pictures of the disgraced IMF boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn, images of African girls carrying gold coins, and random scribbles are all affixed to the walls with putty. The kitchen occupies the other half of the room and depending on where you are sitting you can see the chefs – usually dreadlocked, tattooed men – cooking behind stacks of brown pizza boxes, while the phone rings constantly with delivery orders. The ambiance is far better in the summer, when the outdoor seating is especially atmospheric, almost like an intimate party. Families, groups of unruly university students with alternative pretensions, and other locals all wait patiently to be seated under a string of colored lights that are reminiscent of old tavernas.
The menu is divided into simple categories: salads, pizzas, burgers and a few extras like club sandwiches and Italian calzones. Skip the pasta and club sandwiches – there are better things on offer here. Among the salads, we recommend the fresh, crisp tomatinia salad, consisting of baby tomatoes and mozzarella with olive oil on a bed of thinly cut lettuce wedges; the crunchiness of the lettuce makes a nice contrast with the gentle, milky taste of the mozzarella.
Many people come to Colibri for the burgers, which have all the standard fixings: tomatoes, onions and lettuce (but alas, no pickles) and plenty (too much for many) mayo and ketchup. What makes these burgers special, however, is the freshly ground beef they are made with. The result is a super juicy, moist burger, the eating of which can be an exercise in sloppiness. If you’re after a healthier meat option, they also offer biftekia (grilled beef or chicken patties) with a variety of sauces and toppings. Colibri’s fries are a cross between French fries and chunky wedges and are accompanied with a rather vinegary barbecue sauce for dipping.
The burgers here are good, but the pizzas are even better. They are made with fresh, top-quality ingredients: a thin homemade crust, good cheese and fresh tomato sauce. The gourmet pizzas are brilliantly executed and priced at around €13 for a large pizza. Pizza Rosa – prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and coarsely ground black pepper – feels like the best of Italy has exploded in your mouth. You can actually taste the olive oil, the pepper and the mozzarella, which melts into the copious amount of prosciutto.
But the real specials here are two pizzas named PPO and Chilliens. The novelty is that both are topped with a small amount of full-fat strained yogurt. As weird as this might sound, rest assured that it works. Both pizzas have the same base, consisting of tomato sauce, cheese, white onion, bacon and yogurt. But that is where the similarities end. PPO (which stands for paprika, pepperoni and onion) has a mild paprika taste to it, which nicely complements the pepperoni and strained yogurt. Chilliens has fewer ingredients but compensates with salami and a heavy sprinkling of chili powder, resulting in a fantastic mixture of Italian and Eastern flavors. Prepare to consume it with a large jug of water nearby.
Colibri has its drawbacks. Reservations are not accepted, meaning you’ll very likely have to wait for a table. The service is rather patchy, so if you are on the impatient side it would be better to opt for takeaway. And don’t expect to eat dessert or drink coffee after your meal – they don’t serve any. Despite Colibri’s weaknesses, however, customers keep coming here over and over again and the lines get longer and longer all the time. The combination of homemade comfort food and decent prices is simply unbeatable.