In a city that stays up as late as Athens, it’s no surprise that late dinners and even later-night snacking are big. People don’t go out to dinner before 9 p.m., and most restaurants serve food up until midnight every night. Plenty of places are up and running till the early hours, or even all night long.
Street food is no exception: Greece’s most popular sandwich chain, Everest – with 23 branches in central Athens alone – is open 24/7 in most locations. The toasted sandwiches at Everest are not half bad, but if you really want a good, hearty sandwich, hot dog or kalamaki (small pieces of meat – usually pork or chicken – on a skewer), there are plenty of wonderful food trucks scattered around Athens. For some reason these are called vromiko in Greek, which means “dirty.” This is not because the food is dirty – heaven forbid! – but probably refers to the general condition in which one finds oneself at 5 a.m. after having consumed a large amount of alcohol and needing something filling (and, most importantly, greasy) to fill the stomach and help prevent the onset of a hangover.
The two most famous food trucks in central Athens are in and around Mavili Square, near the American Embassy. The square has a large fountain and on summer nights people stay out drinking beer in the wooden benches till the early hours. There are a number of cafés and bars around the square that are famous for being open till late. Some bars, like M.G., stay open until 5 a.m. on weekdays – and until even 8 or 9 a.m. on the weekends.
Both trucks got their start in the neighborhood back in 1989. The first, permanently parked in Mavili Square, is aptly named Mavili; the second used to be parked right behind the Hilton Hotel but was recently moved further down Michalakopoulou Street, close to an empty parking lot. Although weekends tend to be busier, you will generally have to line up to be served at both trucks.
Mavili is famous for its hot dogs, which are made to order and highly customizable. Their sausages can be boiled or fried and you can pick and choose what to put in it, whether boiled onions, cabbage, carrots, sauce, French fries, mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise. The onion gives this hot dog an unexpectedly sweet flavor and the result is surprisingly tasty. If a hot dog sounds too heavy, we heartily recommend their panini-like pressed sandwiches. These are made with the same bun as the hot dogs but with a lighter filling, such as ham, cheese, bacon, turkey, etc. Mavili also offers souvlaki and crepes.
This food truck is so famous that the singer Giorgos Dimitriadis, an old –fashioned rock -‘n’-roller in his fifties, wrote a song about it a few years ago. The song describes a typically urban scene: the singer is in Mavili Square and watches his ex-girlfriend eating a Mavili sandwich with her new boyfriend. It’s perhaps one of the only love songs ever written that equates heartbreak with the consumption of hot dogs – which should give an idea of what a central role this food spot plays in the life of Athenian night owls.
The Michalakopoulou Street canteen offers all of the same things as the one in Mavili, but its fans swear by the quality of the ingredients used in the sandwiches. The speed with which they make their sandwiches and hot dogs is also astounding; someone once commented that a short film where the camera focused on the hands of the guy who works here (practice makes perfect!) would be fascinating. The truck is named Kotoboukies (“chicken nuggets”) and this is in fact their specialty: a chicken nugget sandwich with a “special” sauce, a pink, mayo- based sauce with a hint of mustard. The fried and breaded nuggets are delicious and the portions are very generous. Truth be told, they’re so good, we wouldn’t be surprised if someone wrote a song about them, too.